Man gets posthumous award for Little Presque Isle drowning event

Justin Schroepfer died last summer while attempting to rescue two women struggling in Lake Superior near Little Presque Isle. He was posthumously honored recently with the Carnegie Medal for outstanding civilian heroism. (Photos courtesy of the Schroepfer family)

MARQUETTE — Justin William Schroepfer, the 24-year-old man who died in June 2016 while attempting to rescue two women from drowning in Lake Superior, was recently awarded the Carnegie Medal for outstanding civilian heroism.

The Rhinelander, Wisconsin, native was one of 20 men and women who received the award, according to a press release from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission. Schroepfer and six other individuals were honored posthumously in this class of Carnegie Heroes, including three who were attempting to rescue children.

While on shore with friends the afternoon of June 11, 2016, Schroepfer witnessed two then 22-year-old women, Abigail Sprinkle and Kaylilyn Tansey, struggling with strong currents and large waves in Lake Superior near Little Presque Isle.

In an attempt to rescue the two women he never met, Schroepfer waded into the lake, but all three were swept into deeper water.

As Sprinkle later floated into calmer water and back toward shore, where she was rescued by bystanders, Tansey and Schroepfer submerged and drowned in the lake.

Their deaths caused a wave of support from community members for the construction and installation of lifesaving stations outfitted with life jackets and other equipment at Little Presque Isle, including a 4-foot-long remote controlled buoy called EMILY, an Emergency Integrated Lifesaving Lanyard, which can cruise through rip currents and heavy waves at speeds of up to 22 mph to reach distressed swimmers.

Schroepfer’s family held a special dedication near the site of the drowning on May 21 to thank those involved in recovering the bodies and rescuing Sprinkle.

Kevin Schroepfer, Justin’s father, was quoted saying in a Journal article at the time that his son was a person who couldn’t watch two people struggling and not do something.

“Those that knew Justin were not surprised he tried to help,” Kevin Schroepfer said. “All those who knew him will remember his smile, kindness and how he was a witness to his faith. In our eyes, he was a hero and gave his life to help others.”

The Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission announced the award winners on Tuesday. It was founded and endowed by the late steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie.

The heroes announced Tuesday bring the total number of awards made in 2017 to 77. Each of the awardees or their survivors will also receive a financial grant. The commission has awarded roughly $39 million to about 10,000 heroes or their families since 1904.

Other winners announced include:

– James Raymond Garvey Sr., 76, of Fairhope, Pennsylvania, who pulled a semiconscious man from a burning car following a crash in rural Pennsylvania.

– Robin Ireland, 39, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, used a stick to scare off an attacker who stabbed a woman with pruning shears in July 2016.

– Jason Allen Williams, 32, of Orange City, Florida, saved a man from the scene of a burning car crash in August 2016.

– Courtney Baynes Dorsey, 16, of Georgetown, South Carolina, died while trying to save his brother from a strong rip current in the Atlantic Ocean in July 2016.

– Demetrius T. Johnson , Sr., 24, of Buffalo, New York, died of smoke inhalation while attempting to save his son from a fire in February 2016.

– Terryann E. Thomas, 46, of Topeka, Kansas, helped fight off a man who attacked a woman in a police station waiting room in July 2015.

– Austin Craig Welch, 18, of Bartow, Florida, drowned while helping his mother and sister escape from the strong currents of a fast-flowing river in September 2016.

– Davis Ilan Zinsenheim, 22, of Marietta, Georgia, died when he tried to stop a friend from falling off a cliff in May 2016.

– Thomas M. Petruszak, 57, of Manteno, Illinois, drowned while trying to help a man who fell into a Lake Michigan bay in September 2016.

– Noah Hill King, 38, of Panama City, Florida, saved a man from a burning car wreck in October 2016.

– Frank B. Conselman, 45, of Rockwall, Texas, saved a man from drowning in Florida in July 2016.

– James Edward Giles, 40, of Terrace, British Columbia, twice braved a burning building to save two young siblings in October 2016.

– Mark Rich, 52, of Randleman, North Carolina, rescued a 9-year-old girl from drowning at Atlantic Beach in July 2016.

– Joshua J. Owen, 33, of Kansas City, Missouri, fought off an assailant and saved a mother and baby after being shot in the face in September 2016.

– Hilton Quintana, 59, and Kyle Van Note, 32, both of Pennsylvania, saved a man after a car crash.

– Angel Darlene Fiorini, 32, and Matthew Paul Burson, 45, both of Washington, helped pull a seven-year-old girl from the scene of a raging mobile home fire in October 2016.

– Dmitriy A. Bondarenko, 39, of Shakopee, Minnesota, drowned saving a man who was trapped by currents in the Gulf of Mexico in August 2016.


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