(NewsNation) — For 20-year-old Jake Manna, July 13 started off like any other day.
Manna was installing solar panels on a house in Plymouth, Massachusetts, when he suddenly heard yelling. It was from the mother of a 5-year-old girl on the autism spectrum, frantically asking neighbors whether anyone had seen her.
Apparently, she had slipped away while she was playing in her yard. As people found out and started searching, Manna decided that he had to help.
He put down his tools in that moment. He and another man went right into a wooded area where no one else was looking, splitting up.
Manna made his way past a “trail closed” sign and down a path, looking and listening, calling on his years of experience as a lifeguard at a summer camp. He went across a river and up a hill.
“There was a T-shirt and diaper floating and my heart dropped,” Manna said on Banfield. “It was, like, so scary.”
He ran to the top of the hill and looked over the area. That’s when he saw the missing little girl.
“She was just unclothed and around waist deep in mud. She was walking out, but when I did call, she was able to stop and she wouldn’t come towards me,” Jake said. “But I was able to walk out to her after I took off my socks and shoes to be able to pick her up.”
While the other community members came to the area, another man helped him and briefly held the little girl while Jake tried to get out of the sand. The little girl’s mother arrived around five to 10 minutes later.
“She was there for a long time, like, fell to the ground. It was just amazing,” Manna said, later adding: “It was just awesome that the whole community was there and we were all able to cover this ground.”
Manna is glad that everyone is safe and would hope that everyone would help out others in a time of need.
“I just feel like it was right time, right place. I like to think that if anyone was in my shoes, it would be the same scenario,” Manna said.
Plymouth police reported that if Manna did not pick that path and see the missing child, the outcome could have been tragically different.
Officer Vinnie Roth, who was responding to the original call, said July 14: “That girl had a guardian angel yesterday … and his name was Jake.”
The police department awarded Manna with a command coin and certificate for his heroic actions.