A 47-year-old Macon man and his family went to a waterfall near Highland Falls, N.C., on Sunday never expecting to see one life saved and another lost during what was supposed to be a beautiful day along the Cullasaja River.
Instead, Stanley Roberts, a minister of music at First Baptist Church in Macon, struggled through what he now calls a “life defining moment” for him and his 14-year-old son, Blake.
Both sprung to action when they heard calls for help from Michael Grady. Grady and his 11- or 12-year-old son, Austin Grady, were pinned to an oblong rock fighting to survive. At times, Michael Grady had to physically hold his son’s head above water, Roberts said.
“You just immediately go on thinking ‘what can you do, what can you do,’ ’’ Roberts said. “You’re just kind of in shock and just try to think.”
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Then Roberts, his son, Caesar Gonzalez, of Hilton Head, S.C., and Malcolm Web, Roberts’ ex-brother-in-law, worked for 30 to 40 minutes to save Austin — and eventually, along with a Herculean effort from Michael Grady, were successful.
Roberts remembered seeing a rope that was tied to the side of the cliff. Gonzalez cut part of it off.
The rope was tied around Austin and through sheer force, the men pulled him free.
“He popped free. We just kind of swung him from the left side of the river,” Roberts said.
But Michael Grady was not so lucky.
After keeping his son alive, Grady was worn out. Despite the arrival of volunteer firefighters and emergency workers, they were unable to remove Grady in time.
“We just couldn’t pull him out,” Roberts said.
“When (Austin) was free there was never any thought of not getting the father. I just remember very distinctly the EMS guy being there and saying ‘get some blankets for the boy and let’s get some blankets for the dad,’ ’’ Roberts said.
Michael Grady’s funeral is tomorrow, Roberts said.
Now Roberts and his family are trying to cope with the ordeal.
Roberts said he had experienced death before working with the church, but said, “This one has hit a lot closer to the heart because of the involvement, seeing this involvement unfold over long periods of time.”
He began to cry while being interviewed with a mix of sadness, and pride for his own son.
He described his son Blake, who will be in ninth grade next year, as having done all he could. “He was just a little man. At the same time he was able to contribute to something,” Stanley Roberts said.
Roberts, 47, said during the ordeal he had mixed feelings about his son’s involvement.
“You know that he’s needed over there. At the same time you just want to say get away from over there,” Roberts said.
He described having an “incredible sense of pride” in his son and called it “a passage into manhood.”
Roberts wondered how it would shape his sons. His 10-year-old was sitting nearby, he said.
“I could have very easily been that man. It could have been one of my boys in that place,” Roberts said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.