“He went into the water a boy and came out a man” – Devastated family open up about their 12 year olds heroic actions after he drowned in a river saving female friends
The family of a 12-year-old boy who died after rescuing his two friends from a river have spoken for the first time about their heartache.
Owen Jenkins lost his life in the Beeston Weir on the River Trent, Nottingham, after wading into the water to rescue his two female friends that were being dragged away by the river’s undercurrent.
And while he managed to save the two girls, aged 13 and 14, the schoolboy lost his own life while saving theirs.
His parents, Nicola and Gary Jenkins, are now hoping to warn others about the dangers of swimming in open water by sharing their tragic story.
Mum Nicola, 41, said: “Owen will never be forgotten. He went into the water a boy and came out a man.”
“We have cried so much but we are determined that something good will come out of this.
“Our son was such a caring boy, he always put other people before himself and would do anything to help his friends.
“I know his first thought would have been to help his firends, not for his own safety.
“We are absolutely devastated, but it brings us some comfort to know that even though he lost his life, he saved two other lives.
“They are very grateful.”
Owen and two female friends, aged 13 and 14, who have not been named, had crossed the weir steps to play on the bank of the river near their home in Nottingham, when the two girls had decided to venture deeper into the water.
Nicola added: “We’ve been told by his friends that the two girls started to get dragged away by the current.
“Owen just went straight into the water without any consideration for his own safety and lost his life to save his friends.
“He was just so caring, he was often late back from school because he walked all his other friends home first to make sure they got home safely.
“He had so many friends, he would always play with the younger children and make sure they were included, we always wanted to raise our children to teach them to help others.”
After successfully retrieving one of the girls from the water, Owen went back to rescue the second struggling friend.
She later told Nicola and Gary how Owen helped her to the edge, where she could stand, but as she turned around he had disappeared beneath the water and his body was not recovered until four hours later.
Around 30 firefighters, three power boats, a police helicopter and an air ambulance were called to help in the search after the schoolboy went under the water.
Nicola said: “He would always leave the house with a kiss and a ‘see you later mum’.
“I would always say to him to never leave on a bad note because so many people don’t come home and now Owen is one of them.”
Owen had arrived home from school before going down to the Beeston Weir, just six minutes away from his home but Nicola knew something was wrong when she heard two sets of sirens.
She said: “He went out but not long after I heard two different sirens which I thought was strange.
“As soon as I heard the police helicopter I told Gary to ring Owen straight away.
“I knew something wasn’t right, Gary called him about five times and there was no answer, that’s when I decided to go down to the weir.”
It wasn’t until Nicola got to the scene, she realised it was her own son who was in trouble.
Nicola said: “When I arrived there were two ambulances, a fast response and a land ambulance, and I just dumped the car and ran.
“I kept thinking maybe he had just fallen, I bet he has broken his leg or something.
“As I reached the water I saw my friend’s daughter, she had been with them at the time and she was just staring and crying, she started shaking her head and crying, ‘no, no’.
“I ran down to the overflow and saw my friend, I kept saying, ‘where is he?’, and she said ‘he is in the water, they can’t find him.’
“I can’t really remember what happened after that but my friend said I tried to run into the water.
“I just couldn’t understand why he was in the water and why I couldn’t see him.”
It was at that point a friend rushed to Owen’s home on Trent Road, Beeston, to inform Owen’s father that his son was now missing in the river.
Gary, 43, said: “I ran down there and people were starting to gather.
“The time just seemed to go so slowly but before we knew it, it was four hours later.”
Fire and Rescue initially went into the water to search for Owen and an air ambulance took a route of the river but were unable to find him, it wasn’t until four hours later that police divers recovered Owen’s body.
Nicola said: “The police divers came because at that point it had become a recovery, not a rescue.
“We knew he was gone, I knew after 20 minutes, but there was always that glimmer of hope.
“They took him out on the opposite side to us because we wanted to see him first.
“He looked like he was asleep, not a mark on him, not even a bruise.”
Owen’s parents described their son as a ‘class clown’ and a ‘cheeky chap’ who loved being outdoors, with a passion for rugby and athletics.
Just two weeks before his death he had beaten the school record for the 100 and 200 metres sprite, a title that hadn’t been broken since 1981.
Nicola said: “Owen loved to be out playing and going camping, he would always come with us to our caravan in Skegness, three times a year.
“He had the biggest grin in the world, his smile looked like it went from the top of his cheek bone right across to the other.
“The house was like Grand Central Station, he had friends coming in and out all the time.”
The parents described their emotional roller coaster as they come to terms with the passing of their son as well as his brother Jordan, 19, who has found it difficult to cope with the grief.
“I never regret raising him to help others, he would have done exactly the same thing tomorrow if we had told him off for doing it yesterday.”
Dad, Gary, 43, said: The house is so quiet without him.
“We will always remember his big smile.”
“We want to educate children, just because the water looks still on top doesn’t mean it’s safe.
“It’s not in the curriculum in any schools but it should be in areas like ours that has school and nurseries that use the local water areas for trips etc.”
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