High school graduation is a special day for everyone, and it’s a great time to look back and thank the people that helped get you there.
When Sarah Thalhammer graduated from North Babylon High School last Saturday, she had an extra-special guest in attendance.
This brave police officer risked his life to save her from drowning six years ago.
It was January 2011, and Sarah, then 11 years old, was walking her neighbor’s dog. But disaster struck when the dog dragged her 50 yards out onto the frozen Great South Bay, according to Newsday. The ice broke and Sarah fell into the freezing water.
Neighbors heard her distress and called the police. Suffolk County Police Officer Chris DeMatteo was the first to arrive on the scene, where he saw the crowd of worried citizens by the shore.
“I saw a little head, and nothing but a little head sticking out of the water, and that’s when I went ‘oh my god.'”
“I realized the severity of the situation.”
He crawled out onto the ice with a life ring, pulling out Sarah in one swoop. The girl was unable to move from the cold.
As the two were being pulled in by a local volunteer fireman, they both fell into the ice once again. However, by then the water was only chest-deep for DeMatteo, who was able to walk.
DeMatteo, Sarah, and even the dog returned to shore unharmed. DeMatteo received much praise for his rescue, but according to a Newsday article at the time, he downplayed his heroism: “Honestly, it’s doing my job,” he said. “You see someone in distress, you need to help them.”
He has since stayed in touch with Sarah’s family. According to Newsday, Sarah’s mother, Michaela, still calls DeMatteo every year on his birthday, calling him “extended family.”
Sarah’s mother then invited the officer to her daughter’s graduation. DeMatteo was surprised, since he still imagined the girl as an eleven-year-old.
“Like any big event in your life, it’s engraved in your memory, that I still see Sarah, still see that little girl,” he said.
But now she’s graduating high school, and the officer who carried her to safety six years ago stood proudly as he watches her accept her diploma.
“Today, she’s a young lady that’s graduating high school, moving on to the next step in her life, and it fills me with pride to see that she’s leading a successful life,” he said.
“She’s going on that next step to college, and she’ll be another productive member in society,” he said with a smile.
FAMILY INVITES SCPD OFFICER DEMATTEO TO ATTEND HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION OF DAUGHTER HE RESCUED 6 YEARS AGOOn January 17, 2011, 11-year-old Sarah Thalhammer plunged into the frozen waters of the Great South Bay after being dragged onto the ice by the dog she was walking. Suffolk County Fifth Precinct Officer Matthew DeMatteo responded to the scene, crawled out onto the dangerously thin ice and carried the girl to safety. On Saturday, more than six years later, Officer DeMatteo proudly looked on as Sarah walked across the stage and received her diploma at her graduation from North Babylon High School.Watch below as Officer DeMatteo reunites with Sarah and her family at the ceremony and recounts their fateful meeting six years ago.
Posted by Suffolk County Police Department on Monday, June 26, 2017