Last Friday, local media from television and radio stations in the Washington D.C. area gathered in the small vestibule of the 5th District Headquarters in Germantown for the reunion of Montgomery County Police Officer Jon Pruziner and the 7-year-old girl whose life he’d saved.
During Friday’s reunion with the girl and her mother, Mary Wimpy, Officer Pruziner earned a well-deserved, warm and heartfelt hug from a grateful mother.
“It really felt good,” said Pruziner. “That is why cops suit up in the morning, is for calls like this. A lot of people don’t believe that these days, but this is really what we are here to do.
However, what was not mentioned in that press conference was how much of a hero Officer Jon Pruziner really is, and that this is not the first time he’s been hailed as a hero.
On Saturday, March 4 shortly after noon, Sahara McAllister, whose nickname is Mookie, had somehow gotten out of the house where she was being cared for by a babysitter. Mookie has Autism and is non-verbal.
Once Mookie’s disappearance was reported to police, MCPD began an extensive search for the young girl. Officers were called to the residence on Locusdale Drive. More than a dozen officers, including K9 teams, responded to the area and began an extensive search for Mookie. The Police Department also called for the assistance of a Maryland State Police helicopter.
Among the officers that responded was, Officer Jon Pruziner, who had learned in MCP training that those with Autism can have a dangerous attraction to water. Pruziner walked behind the townhomes on Locustdale Drive to a creek that leads to a pond. At approximately 1:15 pm, Officer Pruziner located Mookie by the creek.
When Pruziner found Mookie, she was cold and wet. He requested that MCFRS personnel respond and access Mookie for possible cold exposure. Temperatures were in the 30s that day. She was transported to a local hospital and then to Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., for the treatment of hypothermia.
“I am a little overwhelmed,” said Pruziner. “I didn’t think this would be as big as it was. I don’t want to say anything as corny as ‘All in a day’s work.’ Really it was a coordinated effort from the shift guys, to the supervisors doing a great job of getting assets to where they needed to be, and the excellent training in this department from programs like Project Life Saver and the Autism/Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Outreach Unit, which teaches us to go right to water which is where Autistic children go when they elope.”
“I decided to follow the little drainage pipe that went underground, and I saw where it came out and there she was,” said Pruziner. “She was wet and freezing cold when I found her.”
“When I saw her she was almost petrified,” said Pruziner. “She didn’t call out, or I didn’t hear her until I was right on top of her, and she started grunting and making noises. She was shaking, and she was on her back. To tell you the truth, I didn’t waste a lot of time, I told her who I was, but I just kind of scooped her up and started heading up to the townhouses. She looked really cold, and I have suffered from hypothermia in the past, and I was pretty sure that was what was going on, so I made sure I had Fire/Rescue come up and check her out and keep her warm.”
Young Mookie has been released from the hospital and according to her mother, is back to her old self, thanks in large part to the actions of Officer Pruziner.
“I had to thank you personally,” said Mookie’s mother to Officer Pruziner through tears, “I had to look you in your face and let you know what you did for me is such a blessing. I know you put this uniform every day to serve and protect but stepping outside of your car and walking along that pond area. When I heard on the radio, that she’s been located, I had to meet the man who did this. I am so thankful and grateful that you do what you do every day. I have been dying do hug him.”
“I am a hugger, so it’s ok,” said Pruziner as the two hugged again.
He is a hugger and a hero. Without a doubt, Mary Wimpy believes that he saved young Mookie’s life, and the rest of Officer Jon Pruziner’s story is just as amazing.
In 2007, Pruziner was serving as a Specialist with the U.S. Army Second Cavalry in Iraq when he came in contact with an improvised explosive device.
It was on September 11, 2007, when Pruziner followed his squad leader out the door of an abandoned house near Baghdad, where he and his Second Cavalry Eagle Troop had been pinned down and surrounded during a day-long gun battle against insurgents.
Pruziner and his unit planned a break-out move to connect with troops in a house across the street. He took a few steps and triggered an improvised explosive device the insurgents had planted near the door. He was blown through the air. His leg was severed at the boot. The explosion ripped open his left arm and one of its arteries, ruptured his intestines, and shattered his eardrums and ear bones.
After trauma surgery in Iraq and Germany, Pruziner was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to begin lengthy, extensive, and physically and emotionally punishing rehabilitation. In his early days, the 20-year-old Pruziner thought he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. But his resilience and determination prevailed and after begin fitted with a prosthetic limb — two years later, Pruziner, ran the Army Ten-Miler. He didn’t just finish; he ran it at an eight-and-a-half minute-per-mile pace.
In February 2014, Officer Jonathan Pruziner received the 2014 Capital Area Chapter of the Theodore Roosevelt Association's Theodore Roosevelt Police Award.
“There were two things I wanted to be as a kid, a soldier, and a cop,” said Pruzinger, who grew up in Commack, New York. After being medically discharged from the Army, and with the encouragement of friends he enrolled in the Montgomery County Police Academy. In January 2013 he joined the Montgomery County Police Department.
“He shows other people you can get beyond your limitations. I don’t think he looks at himself as being limited,” said Commander David Gillespie.
But not lost to Jon’s superiors and coworkers has been the commitment he has made in large and small ways to reach beyond his particular challenges. “He has to put extra thought and effort into all he does, to protect himself and others, knowing it will take a little extra every day,” noted Gillespie.
Pruziner concedes that his approach to his job is slightly different than other patrol officers. “It takes planning and preparation before I do anything. I have to keep myself in shape and pay attention to my prosthesis. If I think a part will fail I have to get it fixed right away,” he told the Theodore Roosevelt Association. “It doesn’t help anybody to have self-pity, fear, or panic. I realized I just had to move past my injury.”
At Friday’s media event, Pruziner was affable and humble, and self-depreciating. At one point joking with his fellow officers that he’d shined his shoes and gotten a haircut for his time in front of the cameras. Not once did his injuries come up. Not one of his fellow officers mentioned that the hero the cameras were trained on had been working with just one foot as he ran through the wooded area to the stream to find the little girl and save her life.
Maybe, in this case, “All in a day’s work” isn’t corny at all. Maybe, heroes can be corny.
Top: Officer Jon Pruziner, with Mookie’s mother, Mary Wimpy.
Video: The hug, as Mookie and her mother meet the MCPD officer who located the lost 7-year-old.
Next: The hug between Mary Wimpy and Officer Jon Pruziner.
Next: Sahara “Mookie” McAllister
Next: Montgomery County Police Officer Jon Pruziner.