Most college students spend their summers earning money or extra college credits.
Kevin Suarez spent his becoming a hero.
In July, the mathematics major from Jersey City was working on Ellis Island as a dock attendant for Statue Cruises when he noticed a small boat in the restricted area near the seawall capsize, tossing its six passengers into the water.
Without hesitation, Suarez dove into the Hudson River from the seawall – a nearly 20-foot drop – and swam about 70 feet through choppy water to reach the boat.
The passengers frantically told him that one of the four children, a 5-year-old girl, was missing. He knew then that she must be trapped. “When a boat flips like that there’s usually a pocket of air underneath, but this boat was already flat and sinking so I knew there couldn’t be much air left,” says Suarez.
“I found her tangled in some ropes under the boat. I untangled her and brought her to the surface. The moment her head was above water she was gasping for breath and crying.”
With the 5-year-old in one arm, Suarez, who was wearing a life jacket because of his job on the pier, held a 7-year-old girl in his other arm, and floating on his back and using just his legs, swam the three of them toward the seawall. Once there, his co-worker threw out a buoy for them to hold onto until the Coast Guard arrived.
Suarez, a junior who wants to be a firefighter or police officer after graduation, has worked for Statue Cruises since his freshman year of high school.
Two weeks after that dramatic day on the Hudson, Suarez was reunited with the family he helped rescue – including the little girl he saved.
“At first I didn’t really think it was a huge deal, it was just my instinct to try to help them – until she gave me a tight hug and called me her superhero,” says Suarez. “Then I realized that I’d really saved her life.”
The U.S. Coast Guard, the Jersey City Police Department and City Council, his employers and the U.S. Park Police in Washington, D.C., have all honored Suarez for his bravery.