While it is not entirely clear how a man ended up in the Mississippi River near Schwiebert Riverfront Park on Wednesday night, one thing is certain: The family of Hawk Newberry helped save his life.
Hawk's family had returned to the scene of the 2-year-old's drowning to celebrate his life the day after officials in Muscatine County confirmed the boy's body had been pulled from the river there Sunday. After more than two weeks of searching, then awaiting confirmation once his remains had been recovered, family members gathered at the Rock Island park to honor Hawk's short life.
Toward the end of the evening — around 9:30 p.m. — Hawk's family members heard someone shout, "Call 911!" and became aware a man was in the water. They sprang into action.
They grabbed the life jackets someone left on the docks after Hawk drowned, apparently as a gesture of safety and good will to others entering the area. They began throwing the vests to the man in the water.
For a few moments at least, the man reportedly rejected their efforts.
Nita Newberry, Hawks' aunt and his mother's sister, said the man repeatedly let go of the life jackets, "saying to ... tell his wife he loved her."
But Nita's husband, Rick Turnbough, had a message for the man: "He said, 'No; not an option. You're telling her.'"
Within a few minutes, Rock Island firefighters were in the park, the chief and assistant chief said Thursday.
"When crews arrived, they saw someone had thrown the individual a life preserver," Chief Jeff Yerkey said.
As the man clung to the seawall, firefighters threw him a rope, Assistant Chief Bob Graff said. Shortly after, Davenport firefighters arrived by boat and pulled the man from the water.
Yerkey said the Rock Island department always contacts the Davenport department to assist in river rescues.
"We call them just to have two boats on the water," he said. "The individual was taken to Marquette (boat ramp), then turned over to Medic/EMS."
While his condition was not available Thursday, Nita Newberry said she hoped the man was getting mental-health treatment.
"He was a lucky man, and I hope he woke up today grateful he has another day of air in his lungs, sunshine on his face, and friends and family that can still see him," she said. "(Hawk) led us there; I know he did.
"That man was spared his life, I feel, because of my nephew."
In addition to her husband, Nita Newberry's son, Seagham Newberry, and Hawk's great uncle, John Bell, assisted in the rescue, along with a couple of others, she said.
Hawk's mom agrees, posting the following on Facebook: "We were there for my Angel Boy and THIS happens. I was so scared!! Hawkey — Good Job, Buddy!
"We were all there at the right time."
Nita Newberry said she was impressed with the quick response by the two fire departments, but she said city officials should look into ways of making the riverfront and docks at Schwiebert Riverfront Park safer for everyone.