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An Autistic Teen's Lifesaving Act, Growth as a Boy Scout

Bryce Mulhall received the Lifesaving Honor Medal from the Boy Scouts of America in February/Credit: Scott Harvey

“For unusual heroism in saving or attempting to save life at considerable risk to self.” That’s the message printed on an official certificate honoring Bryce Mulhall, a Springfield teenager who last month received the Lifesaving Honor Medal from the Boy Scouts of America.

The heroic act occurred last July on the Current River, where Mulhall was participating in a float trip with Troop 320.

“We took a break somewhere from canoeing and we decided to swim around the area,” Mulhall explains.

Mulhall was 15 at the time. He’s been with the Scouts for eight years, which is mother says has helped enhance the development of her son, who has autism.

Mulhall’s emergence as a swimmer through Scout training proved lifesaving that day, when a 12-year-old slipped and was being swept away by a swift current. Mulhall had positioned himself next to a large branch when he saw the boy quickly floating towards him.

“When he got closer to me trying to swim and everything, he was almost by the log, and when he was right there almost next to me trying to swim, I grabbed a hold of the log, and I pushed him towards me.”

Scoutmaster Don Fotheringhame then tossed a life jacket to Mulhall.

“I hold him in my arms with the life-jacket on him and I swam towards the safety lands of the shore. Then we both made it,” said Mulhall.

Located predominantly in southern Missouri, the Current River serves as a great destination for fishers, floaters, and there are many hiking trails nearby. But this vast wilderness has many hidden dangers, like the force of its water flow, notes Austin Kunkel, a law enforcement park ranger with the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways.

“We have had drownings in the past. Just a couple years back we had one on the Jacks [Fork River] where a man didn’t know how to swim and just got too close to the edge of the water, fell into the water.”

Kunkel, who did not witness Mulhall’s rescue last summer, is part of a team of rangers who are actively working to protect and respond to trail and water emergencies. Often times his mission is to quickly transport a victim who’s been injured to safety, or help locate people who’ve gone missing. 

He says any area with a good cut bank – where the river is eating away the bank – likely has a lot of mud at its base that can easily cause slips. And if you find yourself caught in a current, it’s important to know how to work yourself out of it.

“You cannot work against a force; you always gotta work with it, so even swimming against it is a losing proposition. You need to swim down with the current and kinda work yourself towards a bank.”

For Bryce Mulhall, grabbing his fellow Scout and pulling him ashore saved the boy from floating into a pile of debris down river and possibly becoming trapped in the current beneath it.

“The first thing you do is cry,” Cynthia Mulhall said.

That’s Mulhall’s mother, Cynthia, explaining the emotion that came over her last summer upon hearing of her son’s rescue of a fellow Scout.

“Helping people is not a question. Bryce just does whatever’s required.”

Cynthia explains that her family and their faith are one in the same, noting that they’ve always focused on being kind and respectful to others. She says while Bryce’s handicap does impose some limitations, his ability to care for others knows no bounds.

“Bryce is not unique with those that have disabilities. They have an ability to love people so differently, they are so fresh. It’s just part of their nature. They’re very loving people,” Cynthia said.

Last month, Bryce Mulhall was presented the Lifesaving Honor Medal, the second highest award given by the Boy Scouts of America.

SCOTT: When you had a chance to go up there and receive the award and you were applauded by all your fellow scouts, what was the feeling there?

MULHALL: I had goosebumps.

SCOTT: Was that a prideful moment for you?

MULHALL: Yes it was.

And the achievements continue for the now 16-year-old Mulhall, a freshmen at Glendale High School, who this past week earned the rank of Eagle Scout. His Eagle Scout project, a raised-bed garden to allow students in wheelchairs easier access to grow and harvest vegetables, is another testament to Mulhall’s willingness to help others.