The year 2013 is mercifully drawing to a close, with much of it deserving little more than to be utterly forgotten. But here are a handful of men and women who kept the flame of hope in humanity alive, taking risks, making a stand and sometimes giving their lives for the sake of others.
Antoinette Tuff, the bookkeeper who talked a would-be school shooter out of killing anyone.
On Aug. 20, Michael Brandon Hill entered Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school in Decatur, Ga., equipped with an AK-47 and almost 500 rounds of ammunition. It could have been a blood bath. Instead, the 20-year-old met Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper who was temporarily filling in for the school secretary.
Hill, who has a history of mental illness, told Tuff that he felt "hopeless" and wanted to commit suicide. Tuff empathized with Hill, telling him about her own troubles, including a devastating divorce after 33 years of marriage and raising a son with multiple disabilities.
"We all go through something in life," Tuff told him. "You’re going to be OK. I thought the same thing, you know. I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, but look at me now: I'm still working and everything is OK."
After she talked him down, she delivered, as captured on the 911 recordings, the greatest line of redemption for 2013. "It's gonna be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know that I love you, though, OK? And I'm proud of you. That's a good thing that you did, giving up, and don't worry about it," she said.
Tuff continued to talk to Hill, keeping him from the schoolchildren, and meanwhile counseled the police not to come in guns blazing. She stayed calm until the situation was resolved.
"'Look at me,' I told him, 'I'm still living,'" she said in an interview with WSB-TV afterward. "He then started opening up to me and told me that he didn't take his medicine and that he was sick and that he knew that it was going to end for him because he'd already at that time started shooting at the police officers. I told him that was not so. I would allow them to know he didn't do anybody any harm."
Charles Ramsey, the neighbor who helped free three women held captive for a decade.
Charles Ramsey was eating a McDonald's hamburger when he heard screaming next door. He went to his Cleveland neighbor's house to investigate and found Amanda Berry, a woman who had been missing for 10 years, and a 6-year-old child. Two other women were also rescued from the house that day: Gina DeJesus, who went missing in 2004, and Michelle Knight, who disappeared in 2002.
Ramsey and another witness broke down the door and freed the women and child before calling 911.
James Jenkins, the passer-by who drowned trying to pull a 5-year-old from an icy pond.
On Feb. 7, James Russell Jenkins died while attempting to save 5-year-old Elijah T. Walker from drowning. Elijah had fallen through the ice covering a portion of the retention basin near the Columbus, Ohio, apartment building where he lived. As he clung to the edge of the ice, Jenkins, a 30-year-old technician driving through the complex, stopped to help.
But when he walked and then crawled across the ice toward the child, the ice cracked and broke beneath him. Now in the water himself, he reached Elijah. Jenkins cradled the boy, attempting to keep his head above the 39-degree water as he called for help. Unable to swim toward the pond’s bank, Jenkins submerged, as did Elijah soon after. When responders arrived, Jenkins had already drowned. Elijah died three days later.
In October, Jenkins was posthumously awarded the Citizen’s Award for Bravery by the Columbus Division of Fire, and in December, he was honored with the Carnegie Medal, the nation’s highest award for civilian heroism.
Carlos Arredondo, the peace activist who saved a Boston Marathon bombing victim.
In the midst of the chaos of the Boston Marathon bombing in April, Carlos Arredondo ran from his seat in the bleachers to aid wounded victims. Arredondo, a Costa Rican-American Red Cross volunteer and peace activist, tore through a fence to reach Jeff Bauman, whose legs had been blown off by the blasts.
According to John Mixon, who runs an organization for fallen war heroes of Maine with Arredondo and who was also present at the marathon, Arredondo talked Bauman through the ordeal, assuring him that he would survive even as Arredondo applied pressure to an exposed artery in Bauman's leg to stop the bleeding.
"Carlos was talking to him, saying, 'My name is Carlos. We are going to help you,'" Mixon told People magazine. "The man was mumbling, saying, 'Help me. I can't feel my legs.' Carlos was saying, 'You're going to be all right.'"
Bauman has called Arredondo a hero, crediting him for helping save Bauman's life. “He’s the one who picked me up off the ground,” Bauman told Today in July.
Arredondo lost his eldest son, Alexander, in 2004: The 20-year-old Marine was killed in action during his second tour of duty in Iraq. Depressed following his brother’s death, Arredondo’s younger son Brian later killed himself at the age of 24.
In September, Arredondo was honored for his heroism at the Massachusetts State House with the Madeline “Amy” Sweeney Award for Civilian Bravery. (On Sept. 11, 2001, Sweeney, a flight attendant on one of the planes that took off from Boston, relayed information about the hijackers before the plane was flown into the World Trade Center.)
Jeff Bauman, the Boston Marathon bombing victim who helped identify one of the bombers.
Jeff Bauman was among the Boston Marathon crowd on April 15, waiting for his girlfriend to cross the finish line when he looked into the eyes of the person who would later become known as the mastermind of the Boston bombings: Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Tsarnaev, wearing a hooded black jacket and sunglasses, dropped a bag at Bauman’s feet. Moments later, the bomb exploded, tearing off both of Bauman’s legs from the knees down. The 27-year-old's life was saved by Carlos Arredondo and others.
Chris Bauman later explained how his brother immediately described his experience upon waking up at the hospital.
“He woke up under so much drugs, asked for a paper and pen, and wrote, ‘bag, saw the guy, looked right at me,’” Chris Bauman said in an interview with Bloomberg.
Jeff Bauman also provided the FBI with a detailed description of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was subsequently killed after a massive manhunt. His brother and co-conspirator, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured.
Tony Rohr, the Pizza Hut manager who was fired for defending Thanksgiving.
Tony Rohr, the general manager of a Pizza Hut in Elkhart, Ind., was allegedly fired for refusing to make employees work on Thanksgiving day, according to local TV station WSBT.
Rohr, who had been employed by Pizza Hut for more than 10 years, did not think it was fair to force employees to work on one of the two days that Pizza Hut workers are “guaranteed to have off.”
"I said, Why can't we be the company that stands up and says we care about our employees and they can have the day off?” Rohr told WSBT. "Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only two days that they're closed in the whole year, and they're the only two days that those people are guaranteed to have off to spend with their families.”
Rohr’s dismissal sparked Internet outrage, as customers threatened to cease their patronage. Rohr has since been offered his job back.
Orlando, the guide dog that saved his blind owner after he fell in front of an oncoming train.
In December, a black Lab named Orlando made national headlines when he jumped onto the tracks in a Manhattan subway station after his blind owner, Cecil Williams, became unconscious and fell in front of an oncoming train.
Williams, who is 61, and Orlando managed to survive a train passing over them relatively unscathed.
"He was kissing him, trying to get him to move," witness Matthew Martin told the Associated Press.
William McCormick, the senior who dropped out of Meals on Wheels to leave more for others.
William McCormick is a 70-year-old Virginia native who has lived alone in his one-bedroom apartment since 2005. For most of the last eight years, he has relied in part on the food delivered to him every weekday by Meals on Wheels volunteers.
But McCormick recalled that his working class parents would anonymously aid their community’s hungry by putting together “two or three bags of groceries, put $5 or $10 in it, set it on the porch, knock on the door and leave.”
Due to recent sequestration cuts to federal nutritional funding, millions of senior citizens are losing access to their daily meals. To help others in more dire circumstances, McCormick decided to voluntarily drop out of the Meals on Wheels program.
"I thought about it for two or three days and I said, 'Right now my health's pretty good,' and so I just gave it up," McCormick said. "I just couldn't bear the thought of me having something to eat and maybe somebody else needing it and they couldn't apply for it, so I just voluntarily gave it up."
Actor John Malkovich and restaurant owner Ben Quinn, who rescued an Ohio man after he fell and cut his neck on a scaffolding pole.
Jim Walpole and his wife, Marilyn, were visiting Toronto in June when the 77-year-old Ohio resident tripped and fell into the street.
"My neck hit the scaffolding pole, and there was a sharp thing sticking out on the bottom," he told ABC News. "My neck hit the thing that sticks out and tore it. I was really bleeding."
Although Walpole's wife is a trained nurse, she was so disturbed by the sight of her husband that she "forgot all her nursing stuff," he told ABC News.
Fortunately, actor John Malkovich and restaurant owner Ben Quinn rushed to their aid, using a towel to apply pressure to Walpole’s neck gash while soothing his wife until the paramedics arrived.
Although neither Walpole nor his wife recognized the men during the incident, she later told ABC News, “I just know [Malkovich and Quinn] were two angels.”
Nick Ague, the police officer who carried a wounded German shepherd to safety.
After a car accident in South Londonderry, Pa., two dogs from one of the crashed vehicles ran away from the scene. While one of the frightened dogs was quickly found, the other, a German shepherd named Maya, ran two miles to the county line.
Nick Ague, a Pennsylvania patrol officer who found the dog, told ABC News, “The dog was not moving because the skin on the pads of her feet was hanging, presumably because of the distance she ran. She ran two miles from the crash on hot asphalt.”
Since Maya was unable to walk, Ague picked up the 75-pound dog and carried her back to her owner’s car.
Larry Bohn, Jon Fowler and Nelson Pettis, the inmates who rescued three boys from drowning.
When three brothers fell into the freezing waters of Salmon Creek in southwest Washington, three inmates from Larch Corrections Center conducting supervised maintenance at a nearby park jumped into the water to save them.
"Just 'cause we're incarcerated doesn't mean we're bad people. We made some bad choices in our lives, but we're still, we're just like everybody else. We're just paying our debt for what we did wrong," 28-year-old Jon Fowler, one of the inmates, told KPTV.
The brothers, ages 8, 10 and 16, were canoeing down the creek last January when their boat capsized, hurling them into the freezing water. Seeing the boys’ heads bobbing in the water beside an upside-down canoe, the three men dived into the 45-degree creek and fished out the boys one by one.
“I don’t think I was thinking at all,” 37-year-old Nelson Pettis, another inmate involved in the rescue, told The Columbian.
The third inmate, 29-year-old Larry Bohn, made numerous trips into the creek, first rescuing the eldest boy before returning to help Pettis with the younger children. Once the boys were on dry ground, both Pettis and Bohn wrapped their shirts around the children to keep them warm until the rescue crews arrived.
“He looked real bad,” Bohn told The Columbian in regard to the 8-year-old’s condition. “They were saying 'thank you' repeatedly. They just seemed really scared.”
Besides the cold, the current was much stronger that day due to increased rainfall, sweeping the boys down the creek at an estimated 25 to 30 mph.
Along with the three boys, two of their rescuers were taken to a nearby hospital for mild hypothermia, according to Chief Jerry Green of Clark County Fire District 6.
Despite their heroism, the three men contend their actions were nothing more than what any decent person would do.
"I think we did something that any good person would do. You see three helpless kids in a river, you help. That's what you do," Fowler told KPTV.