New Castle News

September 17, 2012

New Castle teen to be honored as hero

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Justin Ritchie has a hard time believing he’s a hero but soon, he’ll have proof.

The 15-hear-old is one of six heroes being honored Thursday at the Fourth Annual American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast in Pittsburgh.

Other honorees are Karen Murphy of Coraopolis, educator; Christine Marty of Sarver, good Samaritan; Deborah Krall of Youngwood, military hero; Alex Vogel of Baldwin, professional responder; and Grant Wilson of Mount Lebanon, lifetime commitment to the Red Cross.

Justin — a machine tool technology student at the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center, learning to work with heavy metal and machinery — is the Youth Award winner.

“I thought it was someone standing under my window, playing a joke,” the 10th-grader said of being awakened around 5:30 a.m. Nov. 22 by his barking dog. Justin said he recalls hearing a faint voice calling for help.

But as he looked out the window of his 722 Court St. home, Justin saw his neighbor’s house on fire and 74-year-old Charlene McMaster leaning out of her bedroom window calling for help.

Justin, then 14, ran out and grabbed a wooden ladder from the side yard. As his mother called 911, he held it to McMaster’s second-floor window, bracing it and encouraging her as she climbed down.

“About halfway down, the ladder snapped and she fell, hard,” he recounted. He helped her up and to his porch where they waited for firefighters and an ambulance.

She was admitted to Jameson Hospital with a fractured pelvis and back injuries.

Justin said McMaster never returned home.

“I don’t know where she went. I think she moved in with one of her sons.”

Justin said he was surprised a few months ago when the American Red Cross contacted him to say he was to be nominated for a hero award because of the compassion and quick thinking he showed rescuing his neighbor. He said he was more surprised to learn he’d been selected.

“She told me about the award and said I was the only hero in New Castle,” he beamed. “It’s awesome.”

He added a Red Cross crew went to his house and made a video to be shown at the breakfast. It features him recounting what had happened.

“They said I could give a little speech, but I don’t think that I will,” he noted. “I don’t like talking in front of a lot of people.”

But he plans to enjoy his moment in the spotlight. He and his mother, Sherry Knight, plan to spend Wednesday night in a Pittsburgh hotel, so they won’t have to fight the morning traffic into the city.

The young hero said he still can’t believe he will be honored for doing what came naturally to him. And apparently others can’t believe it either.

“When I went to school and told them I was going to be honored as a hero, they didn’t believe me,” he said. “I brought in letters — to get me out of school for the day — and they thought they were a fake, until my mother signed them.”

Thursday will be the his second day off school for the event. By the time the fire department left and the ambulance took away his neighbor, he realized that he’d missed his bus.

“It was the last day before Thanksgiving break,” he said then. “My break got extended a day longer.”

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