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Three boys lauded for river rescue

SUWANEE - The three boys were just enjoying a hot summer day tubing down the Chattahoochee when they heard a woman screaming for help by the side of the river. She was caught on a tree, thrashing as the cold water rose higher.

They didn't hesitate before pulling their tubes over and quickly devising a plan to rescue her. Through some creative thinking, they were able to release her from the tree even before firefighters arrived and guided her to safety.

For that, the three 13-year-olds have become local heroes.

Hunter Allen, Thomas McHugh and Michael Reynolds, all of Forsyth County, said there was no question in their minds when they saw the flailing stranger. They knew they had to try to save her.

"I just wanted to help her because I thought she was going to die or something," Hunter said. "When I was first in the water, I thought she couldn't touch the bottom so I thought then that she was going to die."

The rescue happened after a man, a woman and two teenage girls were tubing down the river together near Settles Bridge Park in Suwanee. When water was released from the dam and the Chattahoochee began to regenerate, the woman panicked and latched onto a tree. The other adult, her brother, stayed behind with her, said Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department.

The other two boys helped from on the shore, while Thomas used his tube to grab onto a log and help dislodge the woman from the tree. Then the boys waited as the swiftwater rescue team of the fire department arrived.

"He's always been an excellent swimmer - probably learned how to swim before he walked," said Sharon McHugh, Thomas's mother.

Firefighters deployed two Jet Skis into the water to pull up closer to the victims. The firefighters retrieved them from the river just 10 minutes after they arrived, Rutledge said. Had the woman been in the water much longer, she could have suffered from hypothermia because of the cold temperature of the water.

"I was nervous, but calm," Michael said. "It was someone's life we could have lost. I knew we'd eventually do it, but I just didn't know how long it would take. I was worried about her safety."

The woman was immediately transported to the Northside Hospital-Forsyth to be treated for water-related exposure. Rutledge said he could not release her name because of patient confidentiality.

The boys' parents said they were proud of how they acted on the river, but they weren't surprised because it consistent with their character.

Karen Reynolds, Michael's mother, said her son had responded similarly last year when a neighbor's dog was hit by a car. He and another friend picked up the huge dog's body off the street and took him all the way back to the neighbor. He wondered how someone could do such a thing and just leave the dog lying there.

Reynolds said she only wished his father could have been there to see how Michael acted in the river rescue. He passed away three years ago.

"I know he'd be very proud of Michael," Reynolds said.

Their parents described the boys as physically active and caring individuals. They were surprised, but happy, about all of the media attention they've attracted through their rescue effort.

"I was just telling my son that it's nice to have your name in the paper or on the news for something good rather than something bad," said Hunter's mother, Tamara Allen.

Firefighters praised the 13-year-olds for quickly and effectively responding to the situation. Capt. Wayne Chewning of the swiftwater rescue team said they "were probably the biggest heroes in this."

"The three boys who stopped in the river did a tremendous job and their efforts certainly contributed to the rescue," Rutledge said.