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This police officer saved the life of a missing autistic girl. But his heroism began long before.

Jon Pruziner has dedicated his career to answering the call of duty in both the military and police force. After losing his leg in the Army, he never quit serving others, but there's one mission that stands out: the lifesaving rescue of a young girl with autism.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Ever since he was a child, Jon Pruziner knew he wanted to be the “good guy.” 

He loved action movies and television shows. Sure, Darth Vader was cool, but his evil villainy was nothing compared to Luke Skywalker’s righteous valor. Heroes like Luke always gained Jon’s respect and even inspired his future career. 

When he was old enough, Jon felt the call to serve his country after graduating high school and joined the Army. 

“That’s why I joined the military, I wanted to be a good citizen and help people. That’s the good guys,” he said. 

He spent some time in Germany with the Army and was ultimately deployed to Iraq. 

In 2007 at age 20, he was caught in an explosion during an ambush. His injuries were severe: his left leg was gone, his ears were blasted, his intestines were ruptured, and his arm was punctured with shrapnel.

In an instant, Jon realized his life would never be the same. But he decided he wasn’t going to die in the ambush. He crawled to shelter with help from his best friend, while gunfire rained down around them. 

 “You never think about getting hurt. I thought that going there that I would maybe die, but I never thought about getting hurt and being affected for the rest of my life,” Jon said.  

After returning to the U.S., he received treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. There, he went through rehabilitation and learned to use a prosthetic leg. Within a month, Jon was walking again. Throughout his recovery, Jon maintained a positive attitude. 

“There are a bunch of other 20, 25-year-old guys, and some of them are just like you and some of them are a lot worse and you see them and you’re like, ‘What do I have to complain about?’” Jon said. 

When he finished his recovery, Jon didn’t return to the Army, but he still wanted to serve his community. He decided to pursue a second childhood passion: law enforcement. Even with a prosthetic leg, he completed Montgomery County Police Department’s academy training and joined the force in Maryland. 

As a patrol officer, Jon interacted with members of the community regularly, but it was a call in March, 2017 that made him realize the magnitude of his job’s impact on families and residents in Montgomery County. 

Seven-year-old Sahara McCallister had wandered out of an open door while she was with a caretaker and was missing. She has autism and was not able to speak at the time. 

Her mother, Mary Wimpy, heard the news when she was at work and immediately spiraled into a panic. 

“All I could think about was my child,” Mary said. 

Jon got the call and started to drive around the area. He remembered from his training that people with autism are often attracted to water, so he got out of his car and began searching a drainage ditch that was filled with water. 

Sahara was there, cold, alone and completely wet. Her core body temperature was 39 degrees. Jon quickly called for medical support. At the hospital, doctors told Mary that if Sahara had been in the cold for five more minutes, she wouldn’t have survived. 

“To see her in that state, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy,” Mary said. 

At a press conference, Mary tearfully thanked Jon for saving her daughter. She and Sahara have run into Jon around town since Sahara’s rescue and left notes for him at the station.

“I think he thinks I’m playing when I say that man is like my best friend,” Mary said with a laugh. 

Jon is just thankful he was there at the right time. 

“Finding lost kids, especially an autistic child that would not have been able to help herself, that’s a great feeling,” Jon said. 

Today, Jon continues to work with young people as a resource officer at Clarksburg High School. He works to build connections with the students and serve as a role model. 

Whether in the Army, on patrol, or at school, Jon’s service to his country and community has truly lived up to his “good guy” aspirations. 

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