Vanessa Martinez was swimming in the Kern River on a sticky summer day in 2011 when she was just 12 years old. She found herself swept up in the strong, cold current and realized she couldn’t breathe or move. She knew there was no way she was going to make it out alive.
Bakersfield Police Officer Andy Ferguson was first on scene and without thinking about his own safety, he plunged into the water to save the life of a child he never met.
Fast forward six years, and that little girl is all grown up and preparing to walk across the stage with her peers as she graduates from North High School (NHS), something Martinez knows would not have been possible without the selfless act of the officer she always wanted to personally thank.
After seeing Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin speak at a NHS event recently, Vanessa told him the story and asked for his assistance in getting a message to Officer Ferguson. The meeting was arranged during the North High School Senior Awards Ceremony.
After a heartfelt speech shared with her friends and fellow classmates about the heroic actions of the officer, she presented him with an engraved token expressing her gratitude and gave him a big hug.
Officer Ferguson pauses to reflect on that day and notes how proud he is to be there for her and how happy he is to see her after all this time. “What a powerful and amazing experience,” he says! Officer Ferguson has daughters about the same age as Vanessa and says he was determined to rescue her from the river that day.
Martinez will be attending CSUB and pursuing a degree in anatomy and biology. She also has an urgent message for the community: “Stay out of the Kern River!”