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St. Louis 12-year-old is youngest to receive Missouri award for citizen heroism

St. Louis 12-year-old is youngest to receive Missouri award for citizen heroism


ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis 12-year-old who saved his little brother from drowning, two Franklin County police officers shot in the line of duty and a group of first responders who saved two north St. Louis County shooting victims are among the area residents set to receive Missouri’s highest public safety awards.

Gov. Mike Parson will award the state’s 2020 Public Safety Medals on Wednesday in Jefferson City to 15 first responders and seven civilians for heroic acts.

Among them will be 12-year-old Jayden Groves, the youngest person to ever receive a Missouri Public Safety Civilian Partnership Award.

In August 2020, Jayden’s 22-month-old brother wandered off from a family gathering in St. Louis’ Hyde Park and Jayden found him facedown in a pond, according to the St. Louis Fire Department.

Jayden immediately jumped into the water and pulled his brother out, then ran to a nearby fire house to get the unconscious toddler medical aid. His brother eventually fully recovered.

On Wednesday, Parson will also present the Governor’s Medal to a group of first responders who administered lifesaving first aid to victims in June 2020 when a man killed one woman and critically injured two others at an Applebee’s restaurant in St. John.

St. John police Officers Mitchell D. Griffin and Dustin P. Hitchcock, Crestwood police Officer Michael W. Mertz, Woodson Terrace Officer Chad W. Hembree and Kinloch Fire Capt. Darion Meeks will all share the award.

The first responders helped keep two women alive after a man walked up to their booths and shot them inside the restaurant. One of those women was a 20-year-old off-duty Kinloch firefighter, Arlydia Bufford. She was shot in the head.

The other woman injured, former high school and college track star Lakeshia Finch, was paralyzed below the waist.

Kimberly Ratliff-Penton, a former Post-Dispatch online producer, was killed in that restaurant shooting.

The Medal of Valor will also go to several local law enforcement officers.

Two Franklin County Sheriff’s deputies, Sgt. Jason M. Weggeman and Ronald R. Burgess, will receive the award after both were injured during a shootout following an attempted traffic stop in March 2020.

St. Charles County police Officer John K. Gresco II will also receive the Medal of Valor for saving a man stuck on top of his car during a flash flood on Aug. 9, 2020.

About 1 a.m. that night, the man’s car became stuck in floodwater on Pitman Hill Road. The current quickly began to carry the car toward the nearby creek with the man still clinging on top. Gresco grew up in the area, so knew he could use a guardrail to get near the man, according to a submission for the medal from St. Charles County police.

Gresco eventually let go of the guardrail to swim to the man and bring him to safety.

Six police officers from Chesterfield and St. Peters police will be awarded the Medal of Valor for rescuing a man found trapped in engine wires of a burning car in September 2020. The vehicle caught fire after crashing into a tree in the 14300 block of Olive Boulevard; the man became tangled and couldn’t escape, according to Chesterfield police.

Shortly after officers were able to cut the man loose, there was an explosion inside the car right where the man had been trapped, the department said in a statement.

Officers Ryan W. Broeker and Andrew C. Mattaline, of Chesterfield police, and Devin R. Kitrel, of St. Peters police, will receive the medal.

Parson will award the medals to these and other recipients around the state at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The ceremony in Jefferson City will be livestreamed on the Missouri Department of Public Safety Facebook page.

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