Students perform river rescue in downtown Binghamton

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Article written by John Brhel and published on Tuesday, 6 October 2014.

Binghamton University students Megan Burney, left, Danielle Robinson and Jake Geiger saved the life of an autistic girl in September when the child wandered into the river in the City of Binghamton where they are standing. Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Binghamton University students Megan Burney, left, Danielle Robinson and Jake Geiger saved the life of an autistic girl in September when the child wandered into the river in the City of Binghamton where they are standing.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen

Megan Burney was walking across the Chenango Street Bridge in downtown Binghamton, on her way to meet up with friends Danielle Robinson and Jake Geiger before heading to a diner. But her breakfast plans changed when a little girl, wearing nothing but a pajama shirt and one shoe, came running out of nowhere and started scaling the bridge, which spans the Chenango River.

“It was so bizarre,” said Burney, an undeclared sophomore. “I was sitting there waiting for a parent — somebody — to come. Nobody was coming.”

Unbeknownst to Burney at the time, the girl was autistic and missing from a nearby facility. Staff had been unable to locate her, so it was serendipitous that Burney showed up when she did.

Burney tried to talk to the girl — asking what her name was, who her parents were and telling her to get down — but the girl wouldn’t listen or stop moving. So Burney called up Robinson and Geiger, whose apartment overlooks the river, and alerted them to the situation. But before Geiger or Robinson could get there, the girl climbed down from the railing and ran further down the bridge. This time, Burney ran with her.

To Burney’s horror, the girl climbed back up on the railing and swung her legs over as if she were about to jump. Luckily, she got down, but then ran down a set of stairs leading to the river. The next thing Burney knew, the girl was in the river, lying down. She tried to pick her up but the girl resisted with all of her might.

“I was freaking out because I was halfway in the water and didn’t know what to do,” Burney said. “It was really hard to walk in the water, and every advance I’d make toward her, she swam further away. She thought it was some sort of game – she was laughing. It was really scary.”

Robinson and Geiger showed up soon after, but it was still a struggle to fish the girl out of the water.

“She really wanted to be in the water, so we had to fight her,” said Robinson, a senior majoring in political science. “We would finally get her and she would just start kicking us as hard as she could, so it was hard to actually physically pick her up.”

Robinson and Burney managed to get the girl close to shore, but still couldn’t lift her out of the water. Luckily, Geiger, a rugby player, was able to.

“She just kept going under, and no one could really get her out, so then after five minutes of trying to get her out, I just scooped her up and carried her out,” said Geiger, a senior majoring in criminal justice.

Geiger’s ability to handle stressful situations should come in handy in his future career; he wants to work as a corrections officer in Nassau County, N.Y. He’s glad to have helped the little girl — but don’t call him a hero.

“At the time, it didn’t really seem like a big deal, and then we were getting all of these e-mails,” said Geiger. “It was like, what’s going on? But it felt really good.”

This wasn’t the first time Robinson had been involved in an emergency situation in the water. As a lifeguard at the West Gym, she saved a student on the club swim team who sliced his head open. In both situations, instinct kicked in and helped save the day.

“It was the same sort of adrenaline … like you have to just do it,” Robinson said.

Burney has worked as a lifeguard as well, at a day camp on Long Island. After the incident occurred, she called up her parents. She hadn’t had a save all summer (thankfully), but her dad reminded her that all of her training was worthwhile.

“My dad said, ‘I guess you didn’t stand around a pool all summer for nothing.”