California Elementary School student Emma Jones didn't know it when she got to school last Wednesday morning, but she would soon be an honorary deputy with the Moniteau County Sheriff's Office.
The students who had filed into the school gym for a morning assembly honoring local heroes — law enforcement officers and first responders — didn't know it either. The surprise was designed to recognize Emma Jones, 10, for her own heroic actions last year, when she saved her father, Brett's, life.
Emma's quick thinking at a pool party last summer — when her father slipped while jumping into the pool, breaking his C4 spine — turned out to be a lifesaving effort. She swam over to her father, who floated face-down in the water, turned him over so he could breathe and called for her mother's help. The two pulled him to safety.
Less than a year later, Brett was able to be there Wednesday morning, along with other members of Emma's family, to see her be recognized for her actions.
Moniteau County Sheriff Tony Wheatley was on hand to read a proclamation from the Sheriff's Office and present Emma with a plaque recognizing her status as an honorary deputy.
"In the dictionary, a hero is defined as 'a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his or her brave deeds and noble qualities.' For the Sheriff and his Deputies of the Moniteau County Sheriff's Office, the students and staff of the California School District, the citizens of the County of Moniteau, and the citizens of the great state of Missouri, we have to look no further for the definition of a true hero than to look at Ms. Emma Jones," the proclamation reads.
Emma, for her part, was humble when reacting to the praise she received last week. She also said she wasn't quite sure what to make of her honorary sheriff's deputy plaque quite yet, at least in the moments following the morning assembly.
"It's just kind of new, I've never had something like this happen to me," Emma said.
After the student body had cleared out to return to class, she described how she felt a year ago when she realized something was wrong with her father.
"I could feel my heart beating so fast," Emma, who at the time was 9 years old, said. "It was kind of scary."
Brett, meanwhile, said he initially thought he was unconscious at the time, when speaking about what he remembered from his injury last year. He described seeing the bottom of the pool and being unable to move.
He also described not having much time to think before he was looking up out of the water and subsequently being pulled from the pool. From there, 911 was called and paramedics arrived to stabilize him with a neck brace.
"The paramedics did a great job," Brett said. "They actually jumped in the pool and laid me back on the (stretcher). They did everything 100 percent."
Brett described himself as a "prankster," so it was especially important that Emma reacted the way she did that day so everyone knew he wasn't just messing around.
"(Emma) just reacted; she knew something wasn't right," Brett said.
A year later, she's a daughter he can be proud of.
"She's my little guardian angel," Brett said.