Boys saved from Mississippi River reunite with rescuers

- For the first time since their rescue, two boys met with the men who saved their lives after they went into the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Shaking hands, they shared their thanks and recalled the frightening moments.

It was just before 11 a.m. Thursday when 10-year-old Sammy Semao accidentally went into the water off Raspberry Island. His 14-year-old cousin Kidus Zelalem then went in after him.

“I was trying to save him and then he floated on his back so he wouldn’t drown,” said Kidus.

The St. Paul Fire Department says a couple of workers for Union Pacific Railway were first to spot the boys in the river. They quickly found a boat and plucked Kidus out of the water as he clung to a pillar below the Roberts Street Bridge. Meanwhile, Sammy floated further downstream. 

“Yes, I was scared - a lot,” said Sammy.

Just under the angled end of a barge with the current of the river rushing toward him, Sammy was able to hold to a piece of driftwood. Just in time, three employees of Upper River Services along with their president maneuvered a boat to get to him. 

“I put my arms around it and my legs were around it too,” said Sammy. 

“It was tough getting to him,” said Randy Kohl, an Upper River Services employee. “We threw a ring buoy out, but we couldn’t quite get to them and we didn’t dare have him grab ahold of him because if he would have let go of that thing he was holding onto, he would have gone right under the barge.”

Now, Sammy’s dad hopes this close call will serve as a learning lesson for the boys and others - not to be scared of the river, but to respect it. 

“If one minute or two minutes later, maybe the river was going to take them,” said Zed Kinde, Sammy’s dad. “I really appreciate what they did. They are very good people.”

Last month, Ramsey County and the Coast Guard recognized some of the same Upper River Services employees for also helping save a man, who attempted to jump from a bridge earlier this spring. 

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