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Thornton officer recognized for saving boy from being swept away in Mad River

Union Leader Correspondent

September 04. 2018 7:29PM
Thornton Police Chief Kenneth Miller, left, presents Officer Ryan R. Harkonen with a Letter of Commendation for his actions on July 28 when Harkonen pulled a 7-year old boy out of the Mad River who was in danger of being swept away by the fast-moving current. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

THORNTON — Three weeks before graduating from the New Hampshire Police Academy, not quite four months on the job, and on his day off, Thornton Police Officer Ryan R. Harkonen saved a boy from the rushing Mad River, in the process earning the thanks of a parent and the respect of his new boss.

Originally from Trumbull, Conn., Harkonen, 24, on July 28 was at The Eddy, a popular swimming hole on the Mad River, off Route 49 within the White Mountain National Forest, taking in a hot summer day from the shore when he observed four males, one in his 60s, the other three between the ages of 7 and 10, struggling in the fast-moving, rain-swollen current.

“They were just trying to get to either side of the river,” said Harkonen, adding that the males, all of whom were related and several of whom wore life preservers, were getting pushed under the surface of the four-foot deep river and also being carried into boulders downstream.

The adult in the quartet and the two older boys were able to reach shore, the youngest, who was the man’s grandson, was stuck mid-river, said Harkonen, who without “really thinking about” his own safety, waded into the river where “I kind of timed it” so that the boy was able to float directly into him.

Grabbing the boy by his life preserver, Harkonen was able to quickly bring him to shore, where his terrified mother awaited.

The mother, who asked Thornton Police not to publicly identify her, immediately sent the department an e-mail of gratitude, saying Harkonen “while off duty, just saved my son and aided my father and nephews that were all swept in the river current.”

For his actions, Harkonen was presented a Letter of Commendation by Police Chief Kenneth Miller at last week’s Thornton Board of Selectmen meeting, in which Miller noted that the officer “took the initiative to respond to this incident without being requested to do so and represented this department well.”

During an interview before the selectmen’s meeting, Miller said what Harkonen did at The Eddy validated his decision to hire him in April.

“It’s very reassuring to me to know that we hired someone of such character,” said Miller, adding that while no one was injured that day on the Mad River, the outcome could have been tragic.

Harkonen estimated that some 30 people were at The Eddy as the incident unfolded, with Miller quoting the e-mail writer who observed that there was “not a single person on that beach that moved” to help her son and family members, except Harkonen.

The woman said she recalled the fear and horror on her son’s face and also on her father’s as he saw his grandson floating away from his reach. She also remembered what Harkonen said when he saved her son: “It’s OK. I’ve got him.”

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Harkonen said he came north to New Hampshire, where he had visited previously and has friends living, to begin his law-enforcement career.

To be able to serve and protect and to be recognized for it, even though still a very junior officer, is “pretty cool,” he said.

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