Brent "Rudy" Edwards of West Philly didn't hear his mother call out for him.
The 17-year-old was fast asleep in the basement of a rowhouse in the 1000 block of Flanders Road. It was just before 10:30 a.m. last Saturday. Since it was a Saturday, the Overbrook High School sophomore probably would have slept until noon -- but the smell of smoke woke him up. Something was wrong.
Dressed only in sweatpants, Rudy ran upstairs and out the front door, where he found his mother and other relatives waiting on the sidewalk. Rachel Noel was frantically counting heads. One was missing.
"Where's Bryce?" she called out, looking around for her 1-year-old grandson. "Bryce is missing."
Bryce, who has a twin named Brooklyn, was nowhere to be seen. The house was engulfed in flames and pouring out thick black smoke that stung the eyes. Rudy didn't hesitate. He rushed back into the living room, where the kids had been sitting on a sofa bed, watching cartoons.
It was so dark, he couldn't see anything besides flames. He called out for Bryce twice. No answer. Then Rudy heard a cough. He reached out, grabbed a tiny arm, and scooped up his nephew. Holding him close to his chest, Rudy staggered back outside, where he gave the baby to his mother and collapsed on the landing. He was taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where he was treated for smoke inhalation and released the following day.
On Friday, classmates and teachers at Overbrook surprised the aspiring professional boxer by calling him onstage during an assembly and presenting him with a check for $588, $100 in cash and a plaque. He also got citations from City Council and the Pennsylvania House. His proud family was on hand to watch.
Instead of going home with them afterward, Rudy stuck around to finish the school day. He plans on giving most of the money to his mother.
"He doesn't know the depth of what he did," said his aunt Andrea Noel. "They were saved by the grace of God and the mercy of Jesus."
He got to share the spotlight with director Benny Boom, an Overbrook alum who was promoting his upcoming Tupac Shakur biopic, All Eyez on Me. I hope the world doesn't stop reminding Rudy of how heroic he was until he finally gets it. Relatives have started a fund-raising campaign on GoFundMe.com to help them rebuild and move back home. On Friday, they'd raised $5,000 of their $20,000 goal.
You hear so much stuff these days about kids, it really made my afternoon Friday to write about one who doesn't fit that a stereotype. Rudy's humble. Like a lot of boys his age, he didn't have an awful lot to say when I talked to him. I got the sense that he doesn't really think what he did was a huge deal.
But you know who sees him for the hero he is and is not letting him forget it? His little cousin Bryce. He must have been terrified, sitting by himself in that dark, smoky house. When he was reunited with his uncle at the hospital following the blaze, Bryce clung to his neck for the longest time. He's sticking extra close lately.
On Rudy's plaque there's a Bob Riley quote that reads, "Hard times don't create heroes. It is during the hard times when the 'hero' within us is revealed." That's something for him to remember.