WINCHESTER — For Cory T. Nichols of Swanzey, Aug. 15 began like any other, but would take an unexpected turn on his drive to work at Winchester Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Nichols, 35, said he saw a police officer near the railroad tracks about a mile from Kelly Farm. A firefighter was also there, in his personal vehicle parked on the side of the road.
“As I started to drive around the truck, you could hear screaming and (the firefighter) started yelling into the woods, saying, ‘I’m coming. I’m coming,’ ” Nichols recalled.
Upon hearing the call for help, Nichols parked his truck and ran into the woods. By the time he caught up to the firefighter, they had both reached a moat, with a 6-foot drop into the murky water below.
“We both jumped in,” Nichols said. “We then swam to an island where three young children were standing.”
The firefighter questioned the kids, who were standing with a canoe and said they were too tired to keep paddling, so they pulled off onto the island, Nichols said.
More than three weeks after firefighters rescued the three children — who were between the ages of 7 and 10 — questions remain about how they got separated from their group while canoeing on the Ashuelot River.
Winchester’s emergency personnel and the local educators who run the out-of-school program for students in grades K-8, are expected to meet to discuss the incident. A date for the meeting has not yet been set, according to Winchester Police Chief Gary A. Phillips.
Winchester Fire Chief Barry D. Kellom said the meeting will be an opportunity for everyone to learn more about what happened that day on the river, as well as how to prevent such an event from happening again.
ACCESS, or All Children, Cared for, Educated, Supported, and Successful, ran the canoe trip the children were on. The program provides learning opportunities for children, parents and community members in partnership with University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension and Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, according to its website. Activities are usually offered during the school year; however this year, Winchester ACCESS operated a summer program.
ACCESS Director Jeremy S. Miller, who oversees the program’s activities, did not return multiple phone messages left by The Sentinel seeking comment.
Parents who contacted The Sentinel shortly after the incident declined to comment on the record.
Nichols helped bring the children from the island, across the water and back to shore. They later joined the rest of the ACCESS group, which had made it to Kelly Farm, Nichols said.
“I was appalled at the fact that they were alone. I really don’t understand how this could have happened.”
And now the question becomes how to make sure it never happens again.
Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ADandreaKS.