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A Hero Among Us: Stone Mountain 12-Year-Old Saved Child From Drowning

“Justice didn’t even look at me. He jumped in," father recalled.

In a lot of ways, Justice Pate, 12, is like other kids his age.

He draws, acts, sings, swims, loves animals and anime, and wants to play baseball in the spring. That certainly fits: he said his mother, Sherina Pate, named him after former Atlanta Brave David Justice.

But one single act stands this Stone Mountain resident and DeKalb School of Arts student apart not only from his peers, but many adults: without hesitation, he jumped in a swimming pool and pulled up a young child, saving him from drowning.

Justice was recently recognized by DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, the Board of Commissioners and others for his bravery over the summer in getting the 7-year-old out of a hotel pool in Bridgeton, Missouri, near St. Louis. Justice has received medals, police patches, and commendations from DeKalb and Bridgeton.

“Justice is a true hero in our county. He is a prime example that one person can make an extraordinary difference. Because of his quick actions on Aug. 6, a young man now has a bright future,” Ellis said.

His bravery impressed the folks in Bridgeton, too: the first thing a Bridgeton police officer on the scene told Justice was, “that was so cool, dude! You saved a boy’s life.”

The day Justice became a hero, his family had spent a fun and long afternoon at a family reunion picnic in Bridgeton. Of course, the kids weren’t ready to call it a night. They wanted to go to the hotel pool.

Justice’s father, younger twin brothers and his cousins had already made it down to the pool at the Embassy Suites.

When Justice arrived at the pool -- crowded due to a birthday celebration -- he found his brother Makenzie just dangling his feet in the water and his brother Maxwell sitting with his father, Garry Pate, who was in a lounge chair watching a nine-year-old cousin play in the three-feet area of the pool.

Justice got in the water and started practicing for a pool game when he saw “a big, grayish object” - a child slowly floating near the bottom of the pool.

At first, Justice didn’t know what to think.

“I was wondering, number one, how is he doing that, and number two, is he for real or is he playing?”  Justice said. He went over and shook the boy’s leg a little.

No reaction.

Justice knew something was wrong.

He came out of the water and went over to his father. Dad, there’s a boy on the bottom of the pool, Justice told him.

Garry Pate got up and went with Justice to the spot. The water was a bit cloudy; he could make out a figure -- pool artwork, he thought -- that looked like it had six limbs. He didn’t realize it at the time, but what he saw was the near-drowning victim, laying on a black line on the pool’s bottom.

That’s a drawing or painting at the bottom, Garry Pate said. But before he could say another word, his son had left his side.

“Justice didn’t even look at me,” Garry Pate recalled. “He jumped in.”

Pushing off the wall with his legs to gain speed, Justice quickly swam down to the child. He grabbed him, pulled him up, swam to the surface and held the child up over the water.

“Call 911!” Garry Pate shouted. Nervously, a niece did, helped by other relatives in getting the right address to the dispatcher.

Justice got the child to the wall where his father was standing, and Garry Pate helped get the victim to the pool deck.

Some people on the pool deck stood frozen among the commotion.

The child’s father, who had been watching over two younger children, rushed over and started frantically administering CPR while Garry Pate made sure the boy’s head was turned to the side as fluids gushed forth from the boy.

“It was kind of graphic,” Justice said.

But he hadn’t processed the seriousness of what he’d done until it was over. “When I got out I said, ‘I just pulled a boy of the water who was drowning.’ “

As the boy’s father worked on him, Garry Pate wasn’t very hopeful initially. The child’s eyes were closed, he was bloated and lifeless.

“I was more discouraged than encouraged,” Garry Pate said, “until he opened his eyes.”

The boy still was not moving, but at last there was some sense of relief.

In hindsight, the Pates can see how everything unfolded that day to put Justice’s bravery, instincts and swimming skills to use at the right time.

For example, coming back from the picnic, Justice rode in the car with a cousin who made a stop, so his father, brothers and cousins got to the pool ahead of him by a few minutes.

But when Justice came down, he was ready to get in the water -- and, when the time came, ready to take action.

Also, after three days of playing at the swimming pool, Justice had finally found his swimming goggles that day, making it easier to see the boy in the water  clearly.

“It was just God’s blessing that I found my goggles,” Justice said.

These days, things are pretty much back to normal for Justice. He’s preparing for a performance with a school group, Shows to Go. And he handles his heroism with a humble heart.

“I certainly can’t take advantage of it,” Justice said. “I have to stay in school, get a college education. When I can’t get something I want, I can’t say ‘remember that time I saved that kid?’ ”

Garry Pate summed it up to his son this way: “You still got to be Justice, right?”

(Editor's Note: This article is being featured on Huffington Post as part of its Greatest Person of the Day series.)

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