NEWARK, N.J. -- It was a feel-good story, about two Newark cops saving an 19-month-old who had stopped breathing.
Mayor Cory Booker and Police Director Garry McCarthy hastily arranged a news conference Tuesday to praise the two officers. Booker called them heroes. McCarthy said it showed how officers "make a difference in people's lives."
Just one problem: Seven Newark firemen and fire clerks say the story didn't happen the way it was told at the news conference.
They maintain it was fire clerk Eric Smith who performed a first-aid maneuver that brought the limp toddler, Jahshamir Quainoo, back to life, before the two police officers brought him to a hospital.
"The baby wasn't breathing," said Smith, who has training as a first responder. "I knew (the hits) would shock the baby and clear his breathing passage. The baby started screaming and crying. I knew the baby was breathing again."
The boy's aunt, who was baby-sitting in his Norwood Street home Tuesday morning, carried him to the nearby fire headquarters Tuesday after he stopped breathing.
They were brought inside the headquarters to keep them warm until an ambulance arrived, the witnesses said. When employees grew impatient waiting for the ambulance, they went out and flagged down the police officers.
According to the story relayed by city officials and supported by the aunt, police officers Miguel Sanabria and Manny Souto arrived at fire headquarters to find the boy "lifeless." They rushed the boy toward University Hospital, intercepting an ambulance on the way.
"When we arrived to the scene we found a lifeless, unresponsive baby. He seemed dead. We reacted before we could think," Souto said in a statement.
The seven firefighters and fire clerks said, however, that by the time the officers arrived, Jahshamir was awake, alert, crying and definitely breathing.
"The baby was sitting on the caregiver's lap. It was breathing and crying," said Capt. Kevin Reilly, a firefighter of 12 years who had rushed downstairs with an oxygen tank after he was notified there was a lifeless baby outside of headquarters.
"The child wasn't limp or lifeless when we put them in the police car. The child was breathing and alert. He was responding," said firefighter Juan Palleija. "It didn't happen like they said. Everyone is upset."
Fire clerk Bertha Stinson, describing the maneuver to help a choking child, said: "It was like a little tap. He came back, caught his own breath and started crying."
Debra Tyler, 48, had been left in care of her nephew by the boy's mother, Nykechi Taylor, 30, a police aide.
"They were fine," Tyler said of the firemen. "I have nothing against them. I went to them for help. And yes, they were willing to help me. But at that time, it didn't call for their help. Because the police came with the car. I was swept up by them. I was looking for anyone to help."
Tyler said that when they got into the police car, the boy was still gasping for air, convulsing and "lethargic."
After the officers stopped an ambulance, the boy was given an oxygen mask and an IV line and taken to University Hospital.
Jahshamir was diagnosed with a febrile seizure and the flu and was given Motrin. He was released from University Hospital with his mother around 3 p.m. and went to the news conference, which the boy's aunt did not attend.
A police spokesman, Detective Todd McClendon, declined comment yesterday.
Booker spokeswoman Esmeralda Diaz Cameron said the public information office obtained all of its information from police and family members.
"It was a positive news story," Diaz Cameron said. "At the end of the day the baby's life was saved because these two cops went above and beyond."
Asked why the news conference was pulled together in such an unusually urgent fashion, Diaz Cameron said it was "big news for the police department."
"The only thing we knew was that a baby was alive and two cops were involved," Diaz Cameron said. "It looks like a lot of agencies came together to help this baby."
Fire department employees agreed and credited the officers for their action yesterday."They did an outstanding job," said Reilly, who added that although Jahshamir was alert and breathing, he still needed a trip to the hospital.