It was the radio transmission heard round the city.
“H-Base, this is CH-91. We have the child. He is okay.”
The message from Crown Heights Hatzalah member Sruli Krasnianski signaling a successful end to a search for 7-year-old Yosef Shapiro set off celebrations across the region, as families, friends and complete strangers rejoiced over the safe return of Yosef, who had been missing for six hours last Wednesday in Canarsie Park.
Numerous organizations and many hundreds of individuals, from as far away as Lakewood, Monsey and the Catskills, turned out to search for the missing child in the area in and around the park. He was ultimately found by a subgroup of seven Hatzalah members, out of a larger group of 19 members who had gone off to search a fenced-off, densely wooded area, braving drenching rains and lightning and vegetation so thick they at times had to crawl through on all fours.
These Hatzalah members have been extremely reluctant to share their story, but finally agreed to do so with Hamodia upon the request of Yosef’s father Rabbi Simcha Dovid Shapiro, who said he wanted the story to be told about the people who rescued his son.
Three of the Hatzalah members spoke with Hamodia on Wednesday. Here, in their own words, is the story of that night one week ago, when courage, determination and Divine Providence led to their becoming reluctant heroes.
Sruli Krasnianski, Crown Heights Hatzalah Unit 91
Tuli Joseph, Queens Hatzalah Unit 91
Simcha Freudenberger, Staten Island Hatzalah Unit 47
First of all, I’d like to ask —
Sruli Krasnianski: — Before we begin, I want to emphasize that we were asked to come forward by the Shapiro family and others to give our accounting of the events as they unfolded.
Especially as Hatzalah members, this is not an easy thing for us to do. It very much goes against how we have been trained, the way that we operate, and the code of security and privacy that we live by. We are in and out of people’s homes on a regular basis, and we keep everyone’s privacy, not even disclosing details of calls to our own spouses. This is a Hatzalah-wide code and golden rule that we consistently live by. As far as we’re concerned, we were formally dispatched to this rescue call and arrived to do what we signed up to do as Hatzalah members. We don’t speak to media, nor to anyone else really, about the work we do, and certainly don’t do it for awards or recognition.
But in this case, especially since there is a mitzvah to be mefarsem a public nes, and there’s tremendous hakaras hatov here that Klal Yisrael owes to Hakadosh Baruch Hu — Hodu LaHashem ki tov, ki l’olam chasdo — we feel it would have been a terrible disservice for the Jewish people, for the world at large, and for the family in particular, to not know the story, and not be able to correctly recognize and give thanks to Hashem for it. So we agreed, at the request of Rabbi Shapiro and with the rare permission of the Central Hatzalah Office, to grant this interview to Hamodia.
It’s mitzvah to publicize this miracle. And there truly were lots of clear nissim that happened that night, so we believe it would be the right thing to get out there and to put the story out, given that we were asked to do so.
Let’s start by having each of you tell us when you arrived at Canarsie Park last Wednesday.
Tuli Joseph: I got there around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m. Ten or 12 blocks away from the park, there was already heavy traffic and no parking spaces. I found some piece of sidewalk to park on and walked to one of the command centers of the various organizations that were there.
There were hundreds of volunteers. Everyone was doing different tasks. Some volunteers were doing the communication, and some were giving out grids of where people should search. I think Boro Park Shomrim was the main organization taking care of the grids. Flatbush Shomrim was talking with the community officials and the police chiefs. I was moved to see hundreds of volunteers, regular people coming over to me because I was wearing a Hatzalah vest, asking, “What can I do?”
This was a bit of a bad neighborhood. They were searching as far as five or six miles away from the park. When I got into the command center and asked, “What can we do?” the Boro Park Shomrim coordinator Yidi Rosman asked me to put together crews of Hatzalah volunteers with reflective vests to search the nearby building complexes and mall parking lots as far as the Erskine Street exit on the Belt Parkway. They didn’t want the civilian volunteers to go there alone.
I got together a crew of Canarsie and Queens Hatzalah members. I didn’t go there myself, I just got together Hatzalah crews and coordinated the grid search. They searched through those areas and reported back to me.
Sruli Krasnianski: I got to the park at 7:05. They were dividing up the volunteers between people who had cars — and could therefore search areas outside the park — and those who didn’t have cars, and would search by foot in the park.
Canarsie Hatzalah coordinator K-36, Duvi Surkis, who was one of those coordinating the search efforts, along with his team, asked me to search along the shore, from the park until Flatlands Avenue. He also asked me to share my live location with him so he could track me. There are a ton of gated, locked marinas, exclusive clubs. There’s a Sanitation depot all the way by Flatlands Avenue that was filled with decrepit shacks, old mobile homes, and all sorts of shady spots and creepy looking things that left me with a hard feeling in the pit of my stomach, to think that a little boy could be anywhere in this area. I was happy to have the two volunteer yeshivah bachurim who came along with me — Eddie Edeltuch and Yosef Kushner.
We thoroughly searched the marina area, starting from about 7:15. We went by foot wherever we could. We climbed gates and demanded entry to private areas. We yelled, “Yosef, Yosef.” We came across some caretakers, and we were like, this guy could be a creep, so let’s try and look around behind their backs. Every stone had to be turned over and every nook and cranny had to be considered. I went between the Sanitation trucks and inside the depot — you know what a Sanitation depot looks and smells like, especially on a hot and humid day with a storm approaching.
At 8:11 p.m., I sent a message to K-36, saying that the marina area has been thoroughly checked, and then we headed back.
Simcha Freudenberger: SI- 54 and I came in from Staten Island; we got to the park about 6:15. At that time, they didn’t yet have any grids, so we just decided to do our own thing. We searched the park for two hours. We kept on bumping into other searchers. It was redundant. Every place in the park was getting searched 10 times by different people.
So we decided to head back to command and see if we could get a grid or something.
Sruli Krasnianski: When I got back, yeah, I could see that there were a lot of volunteers trying to get orders, where to go. I do want to point out that there were a lot of people, non-Jews as well, who live in the neighborhood and came down and volunteered.
At that point it was kind of chaotic. Nobody was really giving specific orders. Everyone’s lining up. Even the command centers looked like they were trying to figure out their next step.
When I saw these huge lines, I didn’t want to just stand around.
As Hatzalah members we kind of stuck together and notified each other of what was happening and being planned. I looked for the nearest coordinator or someone else in charge to get orders from. I let K-36 and his team know I was once again available, and told them to WhatsApp me when I’m needed.
Instead of standing in line or just standing around, I put together a team of six or seven civilians, I have no idea what their names are, and I said, “Come follow me, we’re heading into the park.”
I went in with that little team, and we started looking around. We realized that the park itself was covered. There literally were people out there in lines of six people hand-to-hand so that every inch was being covered. It was pretty amazing. Seeing this, I really didn’t have where to go next, and I said I’ve got to get actual orders of where to go. We disbanded and I walked back out of the park, to the staging area where the command centers were set up.
Around 8:45, I walked up to CH-96, who was standing with Q-91 (Tuli Joseph), and I see CH-96 signing up for something. I hear Q-91 saying he needed a team of 10 guys, kind of like a strike team that’s going to go into this uncharted no-man’s land that we couldn’t know for sure had been thoroughly and properly searched because of the area and its terrain. I remember Tuli saying something like, “If you’re willing to go in there, you’re going into a dangerous area. It’s getting dark, there’s a storm coming any minute and we have no idea what you’re going to come across in there.” I did see that he had a hard time signing up people.
We call this area the “marsh,” even though I’m not sure it’s really a marsh. It’s an area with extremely dense, overgrown brush with thick vegetation, branches growing in all directions, fallen trees and difficult shrubbery to venture into.
One chief from the Police Department said, “It’s getting dark, a storm is coming, we don’t want people who are not official going in there.” It was a dangerous area and she didn’t want any volunteers going there.
Were Hatzalah members included in “volunteers”?
Sruli Krasnianski: I don’t know. But we decided we weren’t!
They did say that they were covering that area by helicopter, as well as having a boat with floodlights probing from offshore. We did see both of those. But shortly after we went in there, the helicopter stopped buzzing overhead and the boat left as well. The area was so dense, thick and covered that the lights could not penetrate through.
Had any of you guys ever been to Canarsie Park before?
Simcha Freudenberger: No.
Sruli Krasnianski: No.
Tuli Joseph: We’d never even heard of it.
Sruli Krasnianski: I saw that Q-91 was having a tough time getting people to sign up to search the marsh, so I signed up.
Tuli Joseph: I remember that you were a little hesitant in the beginning.
Sruli Krasnianski: I was hesitant because as I mentioned, earlier they were dividing people up based on who had a car and who didn’t. So I thought, I’m here with a car, I should save myself for a team that needs a car, instead of going on a walking search. But I said I’m giving this another 30 seconds, and if nobody else signs up, I will.
Tuli Joseph: Micha Yehuda Lader, Unit RN-60 of Rockaway Nassau Shomrim, gave me all the grids that he wanted Hatzalah members to search. One of them had an area on the outskirts of the park where the dog had lost Yosef’s scent. It’s known that when a child is missing, if he was last seen at home, the first place you search is the home, very thoroughly, and you usually find him there. You go to the last known place where the missing person was. So it was pashut to me that we should go search the area where the dog had lost the scent. This was the only real lead that I had. And that place where the dog had lost the scent was right near what we are calling the marsh. It’s a fenced-off area, overgrown with trees and vegetation on the outskirts of the park. It’s not an area where people go.
Did you know whether it had been searched properly?
Tuli Joseph: I had no idea.
Simcha Freudenberger: PD had said that they’re not sending people in there because it’s too dangerous, and because they didn’t think a kid would have gone in there.
Sruli Krasnianski: Another thing to keep in mind is that this was done out of desperation — he hadn’t been found after hours of searching, and it was the last lead we had. Even this wasn’t a great lead — we knew the scent had been lost there, but we didn’t know if the child had been there six hours ago or an hour ago. But we were desperate and couldn’t afford not to follow this lead, however flimsy it was.
Tuli Joseph: It was precisely 8:48 p.m. that RN-60 sent me that image with the approximate location of the place the dog had lost the scent. It was only a two-minute walk from the entrance of the park, but all the way off to the side, fenced off, in an area where nobody goes.
I had a bit of a hard time putting together a group of 10. But we did manage to put it together. Then some more Hatzalah volunteers tagged along at the last second. Ultimately we had about 19 people, all Hatzalah volunteers except one civilian who was a Hatzalah member’s son. RL-88; RL-150; RL-99; Q-38; Q-115; Q-140; Q-146;Q-152; Q-374; Q-372; SI-32; SI-54; ES-320; F Service 6; CH-96; CH-91, that’s Sruli; SI-47, that’s Simcha; SI-41’s son; and Q-91, that’s me.
We walked into the park. It was really beautiful to see so many people, not affiliated with any organization, walking around with flashlights or the lights on their cellphones and searching. It was very moving.
We headed toward this marsh area.
Sruli Krasnianski: So we go to the area and see the fence there. You could jump over it, but we kept looking for an easier way in.
Tuli Joseph: Eventually we found a place where the fence was down, and we entered this no-man’s land marsh area about 8:55.
And I remember at one point suddenly feeling very scared: I had arranged this search team. It was my responsibility.
So none of the team members were coordinators or trained in search and rescue?
Tuli Joseph: Right. I had never led a team before. Suddenly, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure. I said, “Guys, we have one person lost already; we’re not getting another person lost. Whoever goes in has to look at the guy on his right and the guy on his left at all times. You’re never losing each other. If you feel you can’t do it, don’t do it.”
Sruli Krasnianski: Every member of the group was determined, positive, resourceful and relentless in the mission at hand. If necessary, I’d happily follow any of these guys on any sort of mission all over again!
Anyway, at this point, it’s dark, the boy hasn’t been found in the park, we’re searching this area that is not really part of the park and you can’t really walk through. It’s not a great neighborhood. We were optimistic that this was still a rescue mission, but we were preparing ourselves for the possibility that it might be a recovery one, chas veshalom.
Tuli Joseph: So we found this spot where the fence was on the ground. I called out to everyone not to trip on it. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, right when we got in it started drizzling. I was terrified. I knew this was my responsibility.
I had made the decision to put together the team while we were at the lit-up area in front of the park with the command centers. Now, all of a sudden, we are actually here. It’s really dark and quiet. I felt responsible for everyone. I took out a notepad and pen I had in my Hatzalah vest and wrote down each of the 19 units’ numbers as they entered the marsh area. I stayed in back and was the last one to go in.
Sruli Krasnianski: We had seen how difficult it was to get into the marsh area from the park side. So once we were in the marsh, we decided to make a beeline somehow to the shore area on the other side. Then, from the shore, we would get a better perspective of the whole marsh area, and start conducting the search from the shore side.
The shrubbery was so dense, there were times that it was up to your knees or even waist in branches and leaves and greenery and fallen trees. Sometimes it was above your head. There was lots of poison ivy we were trying to avoid. We gave up on that and figured, “If we’re going to end up with poison ivy, that’s alright.” Our skin was torn off. We were all bitten up. There was one plant, I don’t know what it is called, it has like a big, triangular-shaped, green leaf with jaggedly serrated edges resembling shark teeth.
What were you guys wearing?
Sruli Krasnianski: I had a t-shirt.
Tuli Joseph: Polo shirt,
Simcha Freudenberger: I had a long-sleeved shirt.
But no one had any protective gear.
Tuli Joseph: That’s right.
Just a few minutes before, we had been in the park, with lights and crowds of people searching. Suddenly here it was dark and quiet. You couldn’t hear anyone besides us. And the rain. It was really scary.
Were you guys afraid of being under all those trees while it was lightning?
Simcha Freudenberger: We didn’t even think of that.
Sruli Krasnianski: We had a mission.
Tuli Joseph: So I was the last guy to go in. I didn’t have a flashlight. Most of us were just using our cellphone flashlights. We could barely see anything. It was really difficult to move. A few people said they couldn’t continue anymore. I crossed them off my list. At the end, out of 19 people who started, there were 11 remaining on my list.
Sruli Krasnianski: We tried three different ways to get to the shore before we were able to, the terrain was so bad. We got there about 9:05.
Simcha Freudenberger: There was a time that I was at the head of the team, and we literally couldn’t continue, the vegetation was so overgrown. I asked if anyone had a knife. Someone, I don’t know who, handed me like a hunting knife, and I had to cut through the greenery.
Sruli Krasnianski: There were times when I got my feet caught in the coiled-up branches like snake style and had to untangle my feet to keep pressing forward.
Was there any point at which you guys thought, “What are we doing? This is ridiculous; there’s no way the kid is here”?
Sruli Krasnianski: Yes, very much so.
Tuli Joseph: I probably thought so more than anybody else. I was thinking, “I’m the guy who brought everyone else into this madness.”
Sruli Krasnianski: We were completely drenched, getting poked up, scratched up, itchy and bit up, you name it.
The 11 of us finally made it through to the shore. Then we decided that it makes makes no sense to keep all of us together. I think it was CH-96 who said we should split up. Seven of us went to the right, the rest went to the left, and Tuli, who had out the group together, stayed back on the shore, coordinating and continually checking in.
Once you guys entered the marsh, were you in touch with H-Base? Was anyone aware of what you guys were going through?
Sruli Krasnianski: I did talk to my wife and tell her that I’m going into an unsafe area, I’m with a bunch of other guys. She and my children were saying Tehillim at the time for the boy.
It’s important to give kudos to Hatzalah wives. They don’t think twice about things, they just say, “Go do what you do.”
Tuli Joseph: As soon as we walked into the marsh, I started doing radio checks every 60 seconds. We had a separate channel on tactical, but we were getting disturbed by a lot of other units searching. We could have used a few more frequencies, but we made the best out of it.
Sruli Krasnianski: We were walking along the beach. It was so narrow you could barely call it a beach. At parts there was only enough beach space for one foot at a time.
At one point I ventured into knee-deep water to see if anything was in the water. This is kind of why we call the no-man’s land area the marsh, because by the shore area it is marshy.
We started trying to enter the woods to find places to search.
I was in front of the group of seven, along with Aron Liberow, CH-96. There was also Simcha, SI-47; Stephen Altmark, SI-32; Tzvi Weiss, SI-54; Rafi Freund, F-Service 6; and Ari Pearlman, the son of SI-41.
We looked for some hint of an opening, a clearing or any footsteps, human or animal, that had cleared a path so we could go in.
On three separate occasions we found something that resembled some sort of an opening, and we went in. We looked around, and were calling out “Yosef, Yosef.”
Was it difficult to hear, because of the rain and thunder?
Sruli Krasnianski: Absolutely. When you’re making your way through that kind of dense, thick brush, and it’s wet and muddy and branches and trees all over and you’re trying to untangle yourself from it and getting scratched up, the rain somehow seems to make the bristling and crunch of the leaves even more amplified. And we were just off the shore, and the wind carries noise. You need to be able to listen and differentiate between what you’re hearing. You hear thunder, and you ask yourself, is that thunder or did someone just fall down somewhere? You’re on hyper-sensitive mode.
How close were the seven of you to each other? How were you walking?
Sruli Krasnianski: It was kind of like buddies. We were very close to each other. CH-96 and I were together the whole time, at the front of the group. I was holding the flashlight over him, while he was crawling around in the shrubs.
I had this really powerful flashlight. Someone had gone to Home Depot or somewhere and come back with tons of flashlights for the searchers. These flashlights were so powerful and heavy, my wrist was hurting just from holding it.
Tuli Joseph: In our entire group, we had maybe five or six flashlights. The rest were using their phone lights.
Sruli Krasnianski: The first couple of clearings that we went into, at some point we gave up and said there’s no way anyone can be here, and we can’t even go further even if we wanted to. We came back out and looked for another clearing.
Then it came to the third clearing that we went into, and this is where all of a sudden, for the first time, I got afraid for our safety. We’re always taught that the first thing we need to do is ensure our own safety. You’re useless as an emergency responder if you’re injured. That’s when we come across a makeshift tent that was held up by I’m not sure what.
Simcha Freudenberger: There were some pipes and PVC.
Sruli Krasnianski: The sides of it were held down by like rocks. And on top was a gray tarp. It was ominous looking, and this is the first time that I actually got afraid.
Simcha Freudenberger: We didn’t know if someone was inside.
Sruli Krasnianski: We didn’t know anything. It was the first time I started to feel afraid. Afraid of who or what might come out of that tent. Maybe there was a guy in there with a machete coming out after us. I’m the kid who never got into a fistfight in yeshiva. CH-96 reminded me that he is kind of on the scrimpier side. We were so happy to have SI-32 with us, he’s a better-built guy. We started kicking the tent from the outside, but we actually gave SI-32 the job of going in.
But first, I said, “Guys, I think we need to notify PD and either wait for them, or move on and have them check it out.” We had no idea who was in there. What if it’s a homeless guy and we freak him out.
Did any of you have a weapon?
Sruli Krasnianski: No, besides that knife that one of the members was using to cut and clear branches.
Simcha Freudenberger: SI-32 and I first started kicking the tent. I told SI-32 we need to check it out, it might give us a clue, maybe someone will be there. We didn’t have time to call the police and wait until they came. We started kicking it and pushing the tarp, calling out, “Is anyone there?”
There was no answer. We went to where there was an opening and peeked in with our flashlights. There were a whole lot of garbage bags in there and, interestingly enough, some road signs. There was was a stop sign and some street signs!
Sruli Krasnianski: One of us said we should go through the stuff, but another one said, “Let’s not start up with this guy, I don’t know when he’s coming back, let’s just leave.”
Simcha Freudenberger: And let’s not waste time.
So you presumed some homeless guy lived there?
Sruli Krasnianski: We didn’t presume anything. We didn’t find anyone there, so we said let’s move on.
Once we were done with the tent, we backed out of that area.
This was the third time we had entered an area from the shore, seen there was nothing there or it was impossible to move forward, and gone back to the shore to look for another area to go in.
I just want to point out for the readers: As we’ll soon discuss, Yosef was found before 9:20. So this entire dramatic part of the story, from when you guys reached the beach approximately 9:05 and started searching various areas until you found Yosef, is a period of around 15 minutes.
Back to the story. So the seven of you were searching some areas, while the other guys were searching other areas, and Tuli was coordinating from the shore. Tuli, can you give us your perspective at this time?
Tuli Joseph: It was very quiet. I was standing there, the rain started to come down and some of the radios stopped working, and some guys weren’t responding to my check-in calls.
Sruli Krasnianski: It was around this time that I noticed my radio was dying, because it had suffered water damage from the rain. It was going in and out of power, like it was struggling to stay alive and catch channels. I was hearing transmissions on other radios but not my own. The only channel that was working was the Weather Channel. I already knew the weather — I was standing in it! I turned it back to H-Base, and it just didn’t work. But I kept playing with it to see if I could pick it up again. CH-96’s radio was working.
Simcha Freudenberger: My radio also died.
Tuli, when some members stopped responding to your check-in calls, did you realize it was because their radios had stopped working?
Tuli Joseph: I wasn’t sure. Maybe they just hadn’t heard it. I tried calling them again 60 seconds later. Sometimes they did answer, sometimes they didn’t. I was on the shore at this time, I saw the boats going around with search lights. At times I was alone, and at times I was with other guys. Like at one point, two of the other guys, who had just come back out of the woods after searching an area, were standing there with me on the beach, while I was trying to radio everybody and make sure they were okay.
Sruli Krasnianski: As I said, we had gone into those three places and searched — each time we went in, there was a reason for it. We saw what could be some sort of makeshift entryway.
Then CH-96 and I stopped at a spot, and we both looked at each other and said we’re going to go in here and then we both asked each other but why here, and we both said that it makes no sense. And he said, “Let’s go anyway.” There wasn’t even a remote hint of an indication that this would be a spot that we could even get through, nevermind an indication that anyone had been here.
We acknowledged that it made no sense to go in there, but decided to go in anyway.
I think we were feeling desperate. But the real reason we stopped and selected that particular spot is it’s completely min Hashamayim.
So CH-96 Is, is making his way in. He was right in front of me, and I’m standing above and over him. I’m holding the light literally over his head.
What about the other guys?
Sruli Krasnianski: They fanned out.
Simcha Freudenberger: I was right behind SI-32. Sruli and CH-96 were like two feet away from us.
Sruli Krasnianski: CH-96 and I were talking to each other the entire way. And we kept hitting dead ends where it was too physically difficult to keep getting in there. At times we were on all fours. We were climbing over branches and trees. And we kept looking at each other and said, “You know this makes no sense, this is ridiculous, we should turn around, and find a place with an opening.” But every time that we thought about turning around, we both at the same time said, “A little bit further.” And we went a little further.
This repeated itself a few times.
My wife kept calling me. I had missed calls from her. I did speak to her as we were getting into this area and I said, “Dina, I can’t talk. But I’m okay. We’re still looking.”
My wife encouraged us to keep going and said, “You guys must find this boy!”
Then my wife said she wanted to write a pahn to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Chabad calls it a pahn (roshei teivos of “pidyon nefesh”), the rest of the world calls it a kvittel.
There is an app where you can send a kvittel to the Rebbe if you can’t make it to the Ohel. Someone prints the kvittel off the app and brings it to the Ohel. In our world, we were told by the Rebbe that when you send a pahn, it’s already been answered and read before you even send it.
So I said, sure, that’s a great idea.
Anyway, CH-96 and I decide to turn around, that’s it, this is the end of the line.
We actually turn around to head back, and then all of a sudden, our group heard a faint sound, “Eh, eh.”
Simcha Freudenberger: We didn’t know if it was from an animal or what.
Sruli Krasnianski: I asked CH-96 if he heard that, and he said yes. So then I “shhh” everyone, and tell them to turn down their radios. I asked, “Did you guys hear that? Do you guys think it’s a baby or an animal?” Then I said, “I think that’s the sound of a child.” First we thought it might be a baby, but then we’re like, “Who would be walking here with a baby in the middle of the night.”
Then CH-96 started calling out “Yosef, Yosef,” and then we heard, “Yes.”
Simcha Freudenberger: His voice sounded weak. He didn’t answer very loudly. We kept calling, “Yosef, Yosef,” and he kept answering, “Yes, yes.”
Sruli Krasnianski: We looked for him. But it was so dark, wherever we pointed the light, all we saw was shrubbery. We didn’t see him. At one point I closed my eyes so I could just concentrate on where the sound of his “yes, yes” responses were coming from. We were moving through shrubbery.
Simcha Freudenberger: We had to forcefully push aside the shrubbery. It was really thick.
When we heard the sound, it was almost like out of a movie scene. I was with SI-32. There was thick brush in front of us, and he just went at it and hit it like a wall. He went like headfirst into it.
Sruli Krasnianski: He was our macho guy. I was relying on him for muscle.
Simcha Freudenberger: I just tried muscling through the greenery, pulling it apart. At that time we didn’t care about thorns or poison ivy, and our hands were all blistered.
Sruli Krasnianski: Then we decided to stop at a particular spot because we were hearing the sound there. But we didn’t see anything except the shrubbery and the overgrowth. I’m pointing my flashlight and I don’t see anything. But the sound was coming from there.
We start to brush away the shrubbery, and all of a sudden this beautiful head of a child pops out.
Simcha Freudenberger: That spot was extremely dense. And there he was!
Who laid eyes on him first?
Simcha Freudenberger: We came from two different directions. We sort of all got to him, and had to almost be careful not to fall on him, because it was uneven ground.
How long was it from the first time you heard that “eh, eh” sound until you actually saw Yosef?
Sruli Krasnianski: About 90 seconds.
Simcha Freudenberger: I think it was less.
Sruli Krasnianski: CH-96 picked him up as soon as we found him. SI-32 and Simcha were there as well. We did a quick medical assessment.
We didn’t have any doubt about who he was, but we asked him what his name was, just to make sure that he was alert and oriented and preliminarily okay. One of us said, “Yosef, what’s your last name?” And he answered, “Shapiro.”
I knew that the very first thing we needed to do once we assessed that he’s okay, is to get that message over to the family immediately. For me this was very personal. My son was once lost at an amusement park on a day camp trip. What I saw my wife go through for the duration that his whereabouts were unknown — I’m not even talking about myself — was something I never ever want to see anybody else go through.
So I as soon as we knew Yosef was okay, I picked up my radio, and I said what I said.
What you said was, “H-Base, this is CH-91. We have the child. He is okay.” That transmission has, of course, been shared and replayed countless times.
Tuli Joseph: Hatzalah members make and listen to radio transmissions all day long. But there are certain transmissions that you never forget. That transmission is one that will never be forgotten. Every single person had chills.
Sruli Krasnianski: I just said whatever came to my mouth at that time. To me there was only one important thing and nothing else: that the mother and family should know that he’s coming back to them.
If you listen to the recording you’ll hear that I’m actually not quite finished transmitting. As I said, my radio wasn’t functioning. I picked up that radio, forgetting that it had completely stopped functioning by then, and just started talking into it, and somehow it roared back to life and got that transmission through to H-Base. It actually lived for a little bit longer afterward for me to say, “Affirmative, affirmative.” It was going in and out, the screen flickering on and off. And then it went completely dark.
When you hear me saying, “… and he’s okay, ehm …” I was trying to continue and say, “We’re bringing him out for further evaluation, back to the safety of his family and into the arms of his mother where he belongs.” I also wanted to ascertain where and which Hatzalah bus they wanted us to bring him to. I couldn’t say any of that, though, because Hakadosh Baruch Hu just wanted the family to get the critical message as soon as He decided that Yosef should be found and can go home. I guess the rest was not that important!
I’ve since heard the full recordings of all the transmissions during that time, and have felt bad that the base was trying to reach me numerous times, “H-Base to CH-91, and CH-91 only,” but I couldn’t respond as my radio was dead and I hadn’t even been able to hear them. I don’t know the identity of the dispatchers on duty, but if they are reading this, please know I couldn’t hear you and that we have tremendous appreciation for everything you do and for what you enable members to do from wherever you sit and broadcast to us throughout every day and night.
I believe you made the transmission at 9:18 or 9:19. How long was it from the moment that you actually found him until you made the transmission?
Sruli Krasnianski: It was under a minute.
We first checked him out to make sure he’s okay, asked his name and all that.
Simcha Freudenberger: I also asked him if he wants some water, and I gave him my water bottle. He drank from it happily.
[The above video shows F-Service 6 holding Yosef shorty after he was found.]
Sruli Krasnianski: Someone gave him a cap and another gave him a vest — it was pouring.
And then we said, “Now we have to plot our way back.” CH-96, who was holding Yosef, wanted to work a clear path back to the park. He handed Yosef to F-Service 6, who carried him as the rest of us tried to fight through the forest back into the park.
Simcha Freudenberger: We started walking out through the forest, and it was very difficult. At one point F-Service 6 handed Yosef to me, and I held him until we got out of the forest. I was speaking to him, saying, “Everything’s okay, we’re taking you to your parents.” He didn’t respond much, you could tell he was so content in my arms. You could almost feel his relief.
Once we reached the regular grass, I passed Yosef back to F-Service 6, who carried him to the ambulance.
Sruli Krasnianski: We were right behind him. CH-96 and I stayed in the second row of people behind Yosef because as Hatzalah members we did not want to be in the journalists’ faces. We did not want to give interviews or reports.
Yosef was carried into the ambulance where his mother was waiting, at 9:26, seven or eight minutes from your radio transmission.
Sruli Krasnianski: That radio transmission went around like wildfire. Within seconds everyone had it on WhatsApp. My wife had it forwarded to her right away from my nephew, who is a Hatzalah member.
Tuli Joseph: When you made that transmission, I was standing with two other guys on the shore. For a moment we were shocked. Then we started jumping and celebrating.
Did you know where the team that had found Yosef was?
Tuli Joseph: No. I knew generally that those seven guys had gone to the right, and the others had gone to the left.
I assumed they would come back to shore and we’d find a way back. But they went back straight through the forest.
So Tuli missed the whole big walk back.
Tuli Joseph: That’s right.
Sruli Krasnianski: When we walked back with Yosef, there were lots of people still in the park. And they were celebrating. We just followed the voices to find our way back to the park.
There was no gate at the spot we crossed from the woods back into the park when we came back. It was probably the same spot that we had come in.
When we got to the park we had a big kabalas panim.
Reporters kept coming over to us, trying to talk to us, calling us and sending messages. But we didn’t speak to any media. Until today.
Simcha Freudenberger: My phone also blew up the moment we found him.
Sruli Krasnianski: When he was brought back to the ambulance, I stayed long enough for one thing: I wanted to see Yosef being given over into his mother’s arms. F-Service 6 handed him to Flatbush Hatzalah coordinator Moish Wulliger, who handed him to his mother. It was the most beautiful sight ever.
Immediately after that, two circles of dancing broke out. I started off in one then was dragged to the other. These circles had volunteers and members of the many organizations that had participated in the search effort.
So many different organizations and civilians were part of this. It is a zechus that we happened to be the ones to find Yosef, but so many people participated in this. What matters is not whether we found him or someone else found him. What matters to us is that we did the max that we were able to do in accordance with our abilities and our training and our support system, and Baruch Hashem we were able to deliver a happy ending.
It was amazing to see so many people volunteer — first responders and civilians, Jewish and non-Jewish, men and women, young and old.
What has the reaction been like the past week?
Sruli Krasnianski: For the longest time I didn’t even check my phone, because it was just overwhelming.
Thinking about what happened, there were so many miracles. We had no reason to specifically choose that spot to search; and wanting to turn back and then turning back and then going further, a little bit further, a little bit further. And then my radio reviving just long enough to make that transmission, so the family could get their relief, to know that the gezeira was turned over and their son was coming home. So many incredible things. I feel privileged to have been one of Hashem’s shluchim to be part of this beautiful miracle. May we continue to see a Divine thread of chesed and besuros tovos, replacing the gevurah and din that we have seen for too long now. Thank you Hashem for choosing to make this end well. It was so unbelievably and emotionally wonderful to have a happy ending!
You guys participated Tuesday in an event at the NYPD’s Brooklyn South headquarters, where you and the leaders of some of the organizations met Yosef and his family.
Tuli Joseph: It was the first time I had seen Yosef. I became very emotional. It was moving. You feel a connection.
Simcha Freudenberger: We got to meet Yosef’s parents. They were extremely thankful.
Sruli Krasnianski: I asked Yosef, “Do you know who I am?” He nodded. I said “Do you remember me?” he said, “Yes.” I had a nice chat with him.
Simcha Freudenberger: I told Yosef’s mother that her son is not just hers; he is Klal Yisrael’s boy.
On the day after our interview, six members of the search party — Tuli Joseph, Q-91; Simcha Freudenberger, SI-47; Stephen Altmark, SI-32; Tzvi Weiss, SI-54; Rafi Freund, F-Service 6; and Ari Pearlman, the son of SI-41 — returned to the marsh, to show Hamodia the path of their search and relive that night.
“All I kept thinking about when I held Yosef was my own children, and if G-d-forbid, such a thing had happened to me or my wife. It was a surreal experience,” said Freund. “Going back to the site today made me very emotional. This entire story is very emotional — a happy ending to an an emotional experience, which I will never forget. Baruch Hashem we were the lucky ones to be the shluchim to find Yosef. Unreal.”