Homeless Stranger Catches Mother and Kids as They Jump From Burning Building
“He kept telling me, ‘You have to! Come on, I’ve got you.’”
A homeless man in Phoenix, Arizona, is being hailed as a hero after he saved a mother and her young children from their burning apartment building, catching the woman, her two daughters, and the family dogs as they jumped from a second-story window. Claudia Jimenez, 40, told the Washington Post she was awakened by strange noises in the early morning of May 18. Leaving her bedroom, she saw flames everywhere. "It was really scary — fire was spreading all over the place outside the door and windows and on the stairway," she said. "I panicked because I knew that was the only way out."
Blocked from escaping the apartment, Jimenez pulled her two young daughters into her bedroom, slammed the door, and went to the window. "I opened the bedroom window and started screaming, 'Please, someone! I hope you can hear me — we need help!'" she told the news outlet. "It was completely dark and there was nobody around. I realized that to save my daughters, I'd have to throw them out [the window]."
Jimenez held her daughters—one age 8, one only 16 months—while she assessed their situation. The window was 15 feet above the ground. "I was just about to throw them down when I saw this man coming toward us from the other side of the fence," she said. "I yelled, 'There's a fire in the front and we can't get out! Can you catch my daughters?' He immediately jumped over the fence."
"He said, 'Hurry! Throw your kids down to me and I'll catch them,'" Jimenez said. "I was terrified of them getting hurt and told him, 'Please don't drop them!'" Jimenez later learned the man's name—Joe Hollins—and that he was in his mid-20s and homeless. He had been camping out with his wife next to a canal behind the apartment complex when he heard her pleading for help.
Jimenez leaned out the window and dropped her baby, Valerie, into Hollins's arms. She then lowered her eight-year-old, Natalie, who was holding one of the family's two puppies, as far as she could before releasing them to Hollins. Jimenez then dropped the family's other dog into Hollins's grasp. But when it came time to jump herself, Jimenez hesitated. "I was so afraid of jumping and I told him I couldn't do it," she told the news outlet. "He kept telling me, 'You have to! Come on, I've got you.'"
Finally, Jimenez edged herself out onto the ledge and let go. She landed right in Hollins's arms. "Joe caught me, and then I fell on top of him," Jimenez said. "I got a little scraped up, but was otherwise fine."
Hollins briefly joined Jimenez and the building's other residents on the front lawn as firefighters arrived. No one was injured in the blaze, but Jimenez's apartment and two others were left in ruins. She and her children—including two who were sleeping over at their;- grandparents' home that night—are now staying with relatives in the Phoenix area; her husband is currently working in Mexico.
Fox 10 Phoenix interviewed Hollins, who said he was just in the right place at the right time. "The lady was screaming and crying [and] I told her to hand me the babies down," he told the news station. "She was like, 'Don't drop them.' She handed me one at a time, I safely put them down. I told her to come on down. She jumped down." "There was a lot of smoke," he said. "It was dark, but other than that, anyone could have done it."
Jimenez wanted to thank Hollins for saving her family. But he slipped away in the morning of the fire, before family came to pick her up. She spent several days searching the area along the canal and eventually found him five days after the blaze. "I got pretty emotional when I thanked him for what he did," she said, adding that she plans to bring some gifts to their next visit. "I'd like to get him a tent and some clothes and some food," she said. "It's the least I can do. Even though I lost everything in the fire, I still have my family because of Joe."