These Neighbors Rushed to Help a Man and His Son After They Fell Into a Well

A father's worst nightmare came true when his child fell down a well. After jumping in after his son, he had to trust his toddler and a group of neighbors to save both of their lives.

As the late afternoon sun beat down on his Rock Port, Missouri, farm last May, Brandon Leseberg finished feeding his cows and decided to call it a day. As they often did, his two sons, Louie, 6, and Everett, 3, tagged along.

As they headed for the house, the two boys ran ahead of their father, who stopped to close the gate. Louie paused at a water spigot atop an old well to quench his thirst. Unknown to the Lesebergs, the board covering the well had, over time, grown brittle. When Louie stepped on it, it caved in.

Brandon had just finished latching the gate when he turned around and saw only his youngest son.

“Where’s Louie?” he shouted.

“He fell in the hole!” Everett said.

Brandon, 37, quickly realized what had happened. Noooo, he thought. Louie can barely swim!

He ran to the well and heard Louie splashing and gurgling, trying not to drown, quite a ways below. Instinctively, he jumped in. 

A father’s worst nightmare

As he fell some 70 feet down the 24-inch-wide brick-lined well, Brandon heard Louie screaming. Somehow Brandon managed to grab on to a pipe that ran down the side of the well, which slowed his descent and kept him from crushing his son.

Brandon hit the frigid water at the bottom of the well. He popped his head out of the water and grabbed Louie, who was panicking and trying to stay afloat in water that was too deep for either of them to stand. Knowing they could tread ice-cold water for only so long, Brandon hoisted his son onto his chest as he wedged his own legs and back against the narrow walls for support, his body still partly submerged.

“All right, Dad, you can pull us out now,” Louie said.

If only it were that easy. There was no way he could climb out. The pipe that he’d grabbed during his fall was too slippery to be of any use. There was only one way out. Looking up to see Everett peering down at them from the top of the well, Brandon shouted, “Everett, you’re going to have to be a big boy and save us. Run to the road and stand by the mailbox until someone stops. Tell them we need help. And Everett, stay off the road!”

Everett did as he was told.

Minutes passed like hours as Brandon, clutching his shivering son, continued to arch his back and brace his shoulders and legs against the well’s brick walls. Five minutes. Ten minutes. He’d been banking on the kindness of strangers, but there was no sign of Everett. “Where is he?” Brandon said to himself as he wondered, Will we make it?

Finally, Everett’s face appeared above the well. “Daddy, are you still down that hole?”

“Yes. Did you get some help?”

“No.”

Brandon’s heart sank. “That’s OK, honey. But you have to go back out to the road and get someone to stop. OK, Everett?”

“OK, Daddy.”

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Help is on the way

About 15 minutes later, Christi and Mark McKenney, nearby farmers, were driving by the Leseberg farmstead when they noticed Everett alone by the side of the road, waving. They pulled over and asked if he was OK. “My daddy’s in a hole,” he told them.

The couple piled Everett into their pickup and drove onto the farm, and the boy pointed them to the well. Mark dialed 911 while Christi called another neighbor.

After hearing from Christi, 45-year-old Dan Athen ran to his barn and grabbed a thick, 85-foot rope. Then he and his son Ryan, 13, sped to the Lesebergs’ farm. The pair leaped out of the pickup and sprinted to the well.

“Brandon,” Dan shouted, “it’s Dan Athen. We’re going to send a rope down to you.”

Brandon shouted back, “OK, I’ll send Louie up first.”

That was a surprise; Dan had no idea that Louie was also in the well.

There was no time to mull it over. Each second in the well meant a greater risk of hypothermia. After a call from Mark, Eric Duncan, who works on Brandon’s farm, and his friend Jacob McKenney arrived to help. After Dan tossed the rope down the well, Brandon tied it around Louie, then shouted, “You can pull now!”

The neighbors started hauling up Louie but were puzzled by how heavy the small boy was. They gave another hard tug. Something seemed to break free, and the men hoisted Louie up and out of the well. When he emerged, they were shocked to see wires wrapped around his arm. Louie had somehow gotten entangled in the well’s pump and its wiring, which had weighed him down.

QUOTE: The neighbors grabbed the rope and began pulling.

But now he was safe. “You’re out, buddy! You’re out!” said Eric as others carefully unwrapped the tangled wires from Louie’s arm. Then Eric rushed Louie to his pickup, where he bundled him in several hoodies and turned the heater up full blast.

The moment of truth

The neighbors now turned their attention to Brandon. But there was a hitch. He was a big guy, too heavy to pull out of the well using just the rope, as they had done with Louie. Waiting for the emergency rescue team to arrive might have been a wise move, but who knew when it would show up? Besides, their friend was freezing down there. Of course they were going to get him out.

After a brief confab, they decided to use the foundation of the old windmill that still stood over the well as a hoist to help pull Brandon up. They tossed down one end of the rope, and he tied it around himself.

“I’m ready to go!” he shouted.

After looping their end of the rope over the old windmill frame, each of the five neighbors grabbed a portion of rope and began pulling. Brandon helped by gripping the well’s pipe as best he could as he ascended toward the circle of blue sky at the top of the well.

“Hang on, Brandon,” the team shouted as they hoisted him up.

Forty-some minutes after he’d jumped into the well to save his son, Brandon emerged, cold and wet. Just as his neighbors reached out to grab him, he collapsed to the ground, exhausted. A minute later, the first responders arrived.

Other than some nasty scratches, Brandon was fine. Louie, though, suffered hypothermia as well as deep bruising from the wires that had entangled him. He also had a punctured lung, which doctors told Brandon was likely a result of the rope around his chest. Still, he survived and was healthy enough to return to school a week later.

While all the rescuers have been hailed as heroes, Dan Athen isn’t buying it. “We’re just neighbors helping neighbors,” he says before shining the spotlight on someone else. “If there is a hero in this story, it’s three-year-old Everett. He’s a real lifesaver.”

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest