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Thornton police officer receives commendation for off-duty rescue

On Aug. 29, Thornton Police Chief Kenneth Miller presented his newest officer, Ryan Harkonen, with a Letter of Commendation for actions he took to save a family in distress along the Pemigewasset River in July. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
September 05, 2018
THORNTON – Not even yet a graduate of the New Hampshire State Police Standards and Training Academy, Thornton Police Officer Ryan Harkonen proved himself to be worthy of his commitment to serve and protect the public back on July 28, when he rescued members of a family that were enjoying a day at The Eddy on the Pemigewasset River when near tragedy struck. For his quick thinking and deeds that day, Harkonen was presented with a Letter of Commendation from Police Chief Kenneth Miller at last week's selectmen's meeting in Thornton.

Miller told those on hand for the presentation that no one on the department would have known of Harkonen's heroic actions if it weren't for a message that appeared later that fateful July day on their Facebook page.

The message stated, "This officer, while off-duty, just rescued my son and aided my father and nephews that were all swept up in the river current. I so appreciate you seeing what was happening and responding the way you did Ryan," wrote the woman, who wished to remain anonymous. "We were all scared and you were calm. Thank you for being there. We are all grateful."

Miller and other members of TPD looked into the incident to verify the message they received and discovered that on that day Harkonen was indeed back home in Thornton for a weekend break from the police academy. They also learned he had been at The Eddy swimming hole off Route 49 that day, enjoying some time off from his training.

"Your actions played a significant role in bringing this incident to a successful conclusion," Miller said on Aug. 29. "You took the initiative to respond to this incident without being requested to do so, and represented this department well. I commend you for a job well done."

Harkonen thanked the chief for the commendation, but was humble in discussing his actions.

He stated that he was simply relaxing along the river at about 3 p.m. on July 28 and did notice that recent rains had brought a strong current to the area. He first saw a couple people flow through The Eddy on tubes and called out for them to let him know how rough the river was further downstream. Harkonen also watched as a group of people who had been playing in a pool further upstream started to come down the river in a line.

"They had life jackets on, but they were still getting taken down by the current and bouncing off rocks," Harkonen recalled.

It was then that he noticed a woman running down the river, and from the expression on her face he could tell something was wrong. Looking back out on the river he spotted the three boys and their grandfather who were in obvious trouble from the current. As Harkonen entered the water, which was about four-feet deep in that location, the grandfather and two of the boys managed to make their way to the far side of the banking, but the woman's seven-year-old son was still out in the middle of the river.

"I got in and grabbed him. I just got lucky — I was in the right place at the right time," he said with a smile and a slight shrug.

Harkonen is a 24-year-old from Trumbull, Conn. who said that when he decided to pursue a career as a police officer, he came across an ad for an opening in Thornton. When he visited the town, he immediately fell in love with the natural beauty and friendly atmosphere and decided it was where he would like to live and work.

"I love skiing, hockey and being outdoors, so this was the perfect place for me," said Harkonen.

Not long after his hire, on April 1, he was sent off to Concord for his training and certification, graduating on Aug. 17 as a member of the 176th New Hampshire Police Academy.

Miller told selectmen that he is proud of all of his officers who serve the town so well but also pleased to present Harkonen with a Letter of Commendation for his extraordinary deeds.

"Thank you all for sharing in this moment tonight. This is not something that happens all the time," the chief said.

Garnett Hill
Martin Lord Osman
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