Caring first for another

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Connor Devine, 21, doesn’t think of himself as a hero.

“They’re portrayed in the movies, like Marvel movies, as superheroes. That’s what I’ve grown up on, seeing heroes and stuff like that,” Devine said Wednesday as the news media, members of his family and his former scoutmaster crowded the office of Mayor Joseph Solomon.

Devine was recognized for the actions he took on March 5, 2017 when Jacob Gallant of Westport, Mass., wielding a knife, viciously and repeatedly stabbed Alyssa Garcia more than a dozen times. Alyssa, a Pilgrim student, was loading a cooler at the Rite Aid at 1201 Warwick Ave. when Gallant walked into the store and came at her with the knife. While permanently scarred, miraculously Garcia survived the random attack. That might not have been the outcome if Connor, who was also working at Rite Aid that morning, hadn’t thrust a cart used in restocking product at Gallant, disarming him.

Devine has shunned the spotlight. He avoided the media immediately following the incident and was unable, because he couldn’t get time off from work, to attend a city ceremony where he and Stanley Bastein, a customer who was in the store at the time, were honored with lifesaving awards. Bastein held down Gallant until police arrived.

On Wednesday Devine was recognized with an Andrew Carnegie Hero Award. It was not an award he pursued and if it had not been for his mother, Melissa, he wouldn’t have completed the forms that arrived in the mail. Melissa said they don’t know who nominated Connor, but she saw no reason for him not to respond and urged him to do so. Connor was notified he had been selected for an award and the mayor’s office contacted the family and arranged for the presentation.

Melissa thought it was going to be a private event, never imagining the media attention. Connor stood before the cameras flanked by his parents and Mayor Joseph Solomon. Solomon credited Connor with saving Garcia and said the city needs more people like him.

It was the first occasion for the news media to interview the young man who, in the weeks following the stabbing, deflected attention and played down his role in the incident. He was hardly more willing to describe how he felt and what happened, but after the speeches and as camera crews folded up tripods he took a few moments to talk.

When he saw Alyssa on the floor, covered in blood, and Gallant kneeling over her, he didn’t pause to think what might happen to him. He wasn’t afraid for himself.

“I had to act. I just had to act. It’s not something out of the ordinary for me,” he said. Connor paused to find the words. “It’s a natural instinct. It’s a part of who I am, I guess.”

Connor realized time was critical.

“I know I personally couldn’t be distracted by calling 911 because I had to help her immediately.”

Perhaps it was his training as an Eagle Scout that kicked in. He and his brothers, Cameron and Collin, earned their Eagle badges as members of Lakewood Troop 49.

Connor said Gallant appeared stunned. He didn’t attempt to recover the knife that had been knocked free.

“When I started going at him to get him off Alyssa, he had no reaction. Blank slate. He just stopped at a certain point.”

Melissa believes things happen for a purpose and wonders if that’s what happened to Connor. After completing a year and a half at URI, Connor questioned where he was going and returned home. It’s then that he got the job at Rite Aid. He has since left Rite Aid to work for Citizens Bank. He worked as a teller and is now a bankruptcy specialist working from the new Citizens campus in Johnston.

With Bastein holding Gallant down, Connor applied his first aid skills to Alyssa. It wasn’t long before police and then EMTs were on the scene.

Pleading guilty to assault with intent to commit murder, mayhem and possessing a butcher knife to commit a crime, Gallant was sentenced a year ago to 45 years, with 15 years to serve. At the time of his arrest, police said Gallant had told them when he had bought the knife at a nearby store he had decided to stab the first girl he saw.

Connor said he went through a period of nightmares.

“I had a couple nights where I was reliving it, thinking over what I could’ve/should’ve done. But I’ve come to realize after Alyssa was released from the hospital, she was healing very successfully and doing better, I realized I did everything I could and that what I did helped her tremendously and if I did it any differently, it could have been worse,” he said.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, founded by Andrew Carnegie, was created following a massive explosion on January 25, 1904 that claimed 181 lives in Harwick, Pennsylvania. Carnegie set aside $5 million under the care commission to recognize “civilization’s heroes” and to provide financial assistance for those disabled and the dependents of those killed while helping others.

Today, the commission continues to carry out its founder’s wishes by awarding the Carnegie Medal throughout the United States and Canada. Since its inception more than 10,000 medals and approximately $40 million in grants, scholarships and continuing assistance have been awarded.

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