A man who pulled multiple people from vehicles and sheltered them in a nearby school during a blizzard in western New York’s Erie County on December 23 was identified on Thursday, December 29, by local police who described his actions as “heroic.”
Police said Jay Withey from the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda broke a window of the school to allow another 10 people and two dogs inside for warmth and safety.
On Thursday morning, police in the Buffalo suburb of Cheektowaga published images captured by surveillance cameras showing a man entering the school and helping other people inside. Police said that were it not for a handwritten note that Withey left inside the school, they may not have known anyone had been inside, as officers initially thought the window had been broken by wind.
In the letter, Withey apologized for the damage to the window and explained that blizzard conditions outside had left multiple people trapped in their vehicles.
“Got stuck at 8 pm Friday and slept in my truck with two strangers, just trying not to die,” the note read. “There were seven elderly people also stuck and out of fuel. I had to do it to save everyone and get them shelter and food and a bathroom. Merry Christmas, Jay,” Withey wrote, without leaving his last name or any further details.
After the school’s surveillance cameras revealed a group of people had sheltered inside the school, police published the images and asked for help identifying “Jay.”
“We watched the video surveillance and witnessed people taking care of people. There was a freezer full of food but no one touched it. They only ate what was necessary to stay alive. They used the gym for the kids to play and pulled the smart boards out of the classrooms to watch the news for updates. They had 2 dogs they were also attending to. When they were finally able to leave safely, you never would have known anyone was there,” Cheektowaga Police wrote on Facebook. “This group of amazing people took care of each other and the building they found shelter in. Neither Erie 1 BOCES or Cheektowaga Central administration want any charges filed,” police said, referring to public education authorities in the area.
On Thursday evening, Cheektowaga Police said they had identified the man as Jay Withey. “Our Chief was able to speak to him and express our gratitude for his heroic actions. This is a picture we received of them that night. Jay said they are all now like family and planning a SUMMER get together,” police said.
On Friday, Withey and the people he helped were reunited at the school and interviewed by national news media, officials said.
At least 39 people were killed by the storm, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. Credit: Cheektowaga Police Dept. via Storyful