Janesville police officer tells of saving girl on a ledge

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Frank Schultz
Friday, April 25, 2014

JANESVILLE—A police officer who climbed the side of a building to save a girl who was on a ledge overlooking Main Street said the Spider-Man-like feat was what he signed up for when he joined the force.

The Janesville Police Department posted a video from the April 8 event on YouTube on Friday. The video image and sound were edited to protect the girl's identity.

The video is from the micro camera mounted on officer Daniel Schoonover as he saved the teenager on the roof of 33 S. Main St.

If the girl had resisted as he grabbed her, he might have gone over the edge with her, Schoonover said, but he wasn't thinking of that.

“Failure is not an option in that situation. We train to win in our profession. That's the mentality on the job,” Schoonover said in an interview Friday.

Janesville police body camera footage shows rooftop rescue (0:54)

Police are in potentially dangerous situations every time they stop a car or enter a house for a domestic disturbance, Schoonover noted, so this, too was part of the job.

Except that it was so unusual.

A woman in a car stopped at a traffic light below heard a distressful cry, looked up and saw the girl, Schoonover said. The woman called 911.

The girl was standing on a ledge just a few inches wide, holding onto the rooftop wall with nothing between her and the sidewalk below except air.

Officer Justin Popovich was first on the scene. He engaged the girl in conversation from Main Street.

She told Popovich she was going to jump.

Schoonover arrived seconds later. Another officer held a door so Schoonover could climb up on it at the rear of the building.

Standing on the door, he could reach the pipe and climb up the rest of the two stories.

The building is split-level, so it's three stories on the Main Street side, and the girl was standing at rooftop level.

Schoonover could see the girl in the darkness as he climbed onto the roof. He crept along a low wall that separated two buildings, using the wall as cover. The last thing he wanted to do was startle her.

He could hear Popovich's indistinct voice coming over the wall, distracting the girl.

Reaching the front of the building, Schoonover braced himself against the wall. He was 1 or 2 feet from her, and she didn't know he was there.

“I kind of knew this was a one-and-done situation, that we weren't going to get two shots at it,” Schoonover recalled. “I was not going to miss the opportunity. … Falling like that is obviously not an option. It's not anything any of us want to think about.

“Anyone I work with would've done the same thing. … to make sure that person is coming back with us,” Schoonover said.

He reached over, grabbing “a good handful” of sweatshirt with his left hand and reaching across her chest, hooking his hand into her armpit with his other hand. He pulled her to safety.

She did not resist. He handcuffed her because he was alone on the roof. There were there for about 15 minutes.

Schoonover said she was very open and told him she was having a breakdown and heard voices in her head.

She later told police the voices were telling her to jump.

 “She was pretty emotional,” Schoonover said. “She seemed like a very humble person. … Her emotions did overwhelm her a bit.”

The girl descended from the roof on a ladder the fire department deployed, tethered to firefighters' harnesses, Schoonover said.

She was later taken to Rock County Crisis Intervention.

Schoonover said there are discouraging days on the job, but this was not one of those days. And as far as putting his life on the line, “That's the job we signed up for.”

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