The Kid in Charge
Valor often requires little more than the common sense of a 6-year-old. Three days after Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Catrina Williams, the mother of first-grader De'Monte, decided she had to get her family out of their flooded Uptown neighborhood. But when a small rescue helicopter finally touched down at their apartment complex, the pilot said he could take only a handful of children; he would come right back for the parents. Reluctant but seeing the floodwaters about to swallow their home, Williams tearfully put De'Monte, 6, and his 5-month-old brother Da'Roneal (on floor at left) aboard, along with two cousins and three neighbor children, all ranging in age from 14 months to 3 years. The chopper flew off--but it never returned for the parents.
"It was really loud," De'Monte says of his first helicopter ride, "and when I looked down, I saw all the houses under water. The little kids were crying a lot. But I didn't cry." Instead, when the tykes were dropped off near Causeway Boulevard, on the city's west side, and they became lost in the chaos there, De'Monte (pronounced De-mon-teh) kept a cool head and a brave heart. Clutching Da'Roneal, he had the toddlers (one was wearing only diapers) hold hands in a chain as they wandered to find a safe place. He kept them together and unharmed until rescuers discovered them and took them to a Baton Rouge, La., shelter. They assumed the kids were now orphans.
But once in Baton Rouge, De'Monte saved the day again. Thanks to good coaching by his mom, the boy gave shelter staff enough information--names, addresses, phone numbers, personal descriptions--that in a few days they and the Virginia-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were able to locate all the children's parents, whom rescuers had taken to San Antonio, Texas. The kids were whisked by a private Angel Flight plane to join them in San Antonio, where De'Monte and his family now live. "I was shocked, surprised and proud of my baby when I heard what he did," Williams, 27, says of De'Monte. "I tell him he's a superhero." And a humble one at that. "It feels good that people call me a hero," says De'Monte. "But I don't know why they do." He's attending elementary school in San Antonio, where he says he likes art, science and basketball. Perhaps someday, if we're lucky, he'll grow up to be an emergency-response official.