Kristen Hemlock, mother to 5-year-old Mason Varner, cries as she reaches to hug Riley John, 14, at a ceremony to recognize John at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School on Friday, March 31, 2017. John, with help from friend Seth Gerrin, 16, rescued Varner from Gold Creek on Thursday.

Gold Creek hero honored

Iosefa Riley John, who goes by Riley, was awarded by the Juneau Police Department on Friday for his bravery in saving 5-year-old Mason Varner from drowning in Gold Creek on Wednesday.

A 14-year-old student at Yaakoosge Daakahidi High School, John was out with his friends for a stroll in Cope Park on Wednesday evening when Varner fell into the creek. John jumped in after the boy, who was quickly being swept downriver in near-freezing waters. John saved Varner’s life, JPD said.

A friend Seth Gerrin, 16, was also honored for assisting John by helping pull him and Varner out of the river. John, suffering from the cold, was having a hard time exiting.

In a Thursday interview with the Empire, John said he “didn’t think about it that much,” and followed his instincts to just “help the kid out.”

Varner suffered only bumps and bruises from the ordeal. His mother, Kristen Hemlock, kept Varner home from school Thursday and attended the event Friday to meet John and thank him.

“I am just so thankful for him, that he saved my little boy,” Hemlock said Thursday. “It could have been so much different. I can’t even express in any words how incredible he (John) is.”

JPD has recommended Varner for a Civilian Life Saving Award. Read a full story of John and Gerrin’s heroic rescue at

Riley John, 14, is recognized by Capital City Fire/Rescue Fire Chief Richard Etheridge, second from right, Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott , right, and Chief of Police Bryce Johnson, not pictured, during an ceremony at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School on Friday, March 31, 2017. John, with help from friend Seth Gerrin, 16, rescued 5-year-old Mason Varner from Gold Creek at Cope Park on Thursday after he slipped into the creek.

Five-year-old Mason Varner plays after a ceremony for Riley John, 14, at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School on Friday, March 31, 2017. John, and his friend Seth Gerrin, 16, saved Varner after he fell in Gold Creek at Cope Park on Thursday.

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