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NHS graduate who drowned saving son receives Carnegie Hero Award

“Saul has become our angel that now guides us and one day we will be reunited again.” - Manuel Marquez 

For the Ortiz family, the Trinity River at Marion Sansom Park in Fort Worth represents a bittersweet reminder of familial devotion following the heroic sacrifice of 28-year-old Saul Ortiz Marquez. 

During Texas summers, waterfalls at the park serve as a popular destination for early-morning hikers. On June 13, 2020, Saul, his two sons Diego and Mateo, his mother Margarita and his youngest sister Rubi packed up the family car with high hopes of reaching the falls before the afternoon heat settled into the area. 

Saul Ortiz with his sons

 Saul Ortiz Marquez pictured with his sons, from left, Diego and Mateo Ortiz

The hike to the falls features a gradual decline, hidden with a few stretches of rocky terrain. The family took their time, arriving after 40 minutes of casual conversation and laughter. Noticing Mateo’s shoe was untied, Saul — a 2009 Northwest High School alumnus — turned his back slightly to help his son. Mateo had recently been practicing how to tie his own shoes and was nearly a pro. Margarita, standing near the falls, noticed Diego trying to keep his balance near a tributary stream. After a split second, 8-year-old Diego lost his footing and fell into the moving waters. 

Saul, running down the path, immediately threw his backpack to the ground and jumped to save his son. The swift, strong current began carrying Saul and his son away from shore. Struggling to stay afloat, Saul continuously screamed for someone to grab his son and pull him to safety. Margarita entered the water. Rubi, now a helpless bystander, kept watch of young Mateo.

With all his might and strength, Saul continued to push Diego above water. Margarita, with one faithful out-stretched hand, grabbed Diego’s arm. With the help of several bystanders, Margarita pulled the young boy out of the swirling water. Immediately after Diego was safe, Margarita turned back to help her son. Unable to visually locate Saul, she yelled for him. After unsuccessful responses, two complete strangers jumped into the water but were unsuccessful in locating Margarita’s son. 

At the very moment he knew his son was safe, Saul struggled to keep his head above the water. The undercurrent was too strong for his exhausted body and he drowned. After an hour of searching, divers were able to locate his body. Saul risked his own safety to save his son’s life.

To honor his bravery, a national commission informed Saul’s parents their son received a Carnegie Medal, North America’s highest honor for civilian heroism. Saul is among 51 individuals so far in 2022 recognized for risking their lives to save others.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awards the medal throughout the U.S. and Canada to those who enter extreme danger while saving or attempting to save the lives of others. The Pittsburgh-based fund has awarded its eponymous medal to 10,324 individuals since its inception in 1904.

“There are no words when you lose your child; my heart aches knowing he is no longer with us and I struggle,” said Mr. Saul Ortiz, the awardee’s father. “But I know that he is in a better place. Until we meet again, my dear son.” 

Each of the recipients or their survivors receive a financial grant. Throughout the 118 years since the Fund was established by industrialist-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, more than $44 million has been given in one-time grants, scholarship aid, death benefits and continuing assistance. The Carnegie Fund Commission will present Saul’s parents with a Bronze Medal with their son’s name on it. The family recently received a grave medallion, which will be placed on Saul’s head stone. 

A grave medallion

 “My uncle Saul, he was always fun to be around,” said Saul’s niece, Valentina Ortiz Pettid, a third-grade student at Clara Love Elementary School. “He liked to joke around. He will always be a hero and I miss him.” 

During his time at Northwest High School, Saul was heavily involved in the two sports he loved — soccer and football. Hundreds who went to school with Saul attended his funeral and frequently visit his gravesite, located in the Alamo section of the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth. While the family continues to mourn, teachers, counselors and school leaders from Northwest High School and Clara Love Elementary help Saul’s surviving family members cope with their sudden loss.

A photograph of Saul Ortiz Marquez

“My brother was a very social person,” said Rubi Ortiz Marquez, Saul’s sister and a 2022 Northwest High School graduate. “Regardless if you were part of the family or not, he would treat you like family. He was an amazing father, always putting his sons first and taking them out on new adventures. I miss him dearly, but I know this is just a ‘see you later’.” 

To learn more about the Carnegie Hero Award and Fund, please visit www.carnegiehero.org.