Mya Eppert was barely alive when Indianapolis firefighter Kevin Gill first laid eyes on her almost a decade ago, reports The Associated Press.
Flames licked the walls of her home on the 1300 block of Medford Avenue in Haughville the night of March 1, 2006. Thick, black smoke veiled her crib, which was tucked in the only bedroom of the modest duplex.
Mya was 8 months old.
When Gill found her in the burning home, he said she was so still he first thought she was a doll.
It didn’t sink in until he cradled her tiny body, felt her fragile neck fall back and cupped her head in his hand. The firefighter rushed her outside and handed her off while he finished dousing the fire.
By the time Gill returned to check on her, she was gone.
Gill, 48, said he has been thinking about what happened to the little girl — whose rescue he describes as the “highlight of his career” — since that day.
More than eight years later, Gill held her again Sunday during a reunion at Indianapolis Fire Department Station 1.
“Today means a lot to me. Today means, just…,” Gill said, trailing off. “It’s been some years wondering how she’s doing, where she’s been. … I’m pleased, pleased to have met her.”
The firefighter said he tried to track Mya, now 9, down with no luck.
Mya, previously named Mya Roberts, filtered through Child Protective Services and Indiana’s foster care system. Her birth parents lost custody of her for leaving her home alone the night of the fire.
Mya’s adoptive parents said the “inquisitive” child has been asking them about what happened for years. They finally gave her a copy of an Indianapolis Star report on the fire this spring, said her father, 10-year Marion County Sheriff’s Office veteran Todd Eppert.
She read it. Thought about it. Finally, she told them she wanted to meet the man who rescued her from death.
Mya stood quietly next to him Sunday, not saying much but a soft “thank you.”
Gill didn’t say much during their meeting either, but he couldn’t keep a wide grin off his face as he wrapped an arm around Mya.
“When I brought her up, she was lifeless,” he told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1mCnEeB ). “Now she’s very vibrant and full of life, full of smiles. Full of complete joys and memories.”
He flipped through a photo album that the girl’s adoptive mother brought.
“You did a wonderful job,” Lori Eppert told him. “It’s the only reason we have her.”
Gill flipped through pictures of Mya smiling on birthdays and posing in gymnastics leotards.
Mya said she wants to be a professional gymnast when she grows up. Her muscled arms show she means it.
The sport ties Mya and Gill together.
One of Gill’s three daughters was a cheerleader who also studied gymnastics, and one of his cousins is training to qualify for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.
He gave Mya a gymnastics magazine with a photo and signature from his cousin, as well as a sparkling silver and black leotard and a pink Indianapolis Fire Department T-shirt.
She gave him a hand-painted mug with a guardian angel.
“I want to be a part of her life,” Gill said before biting into a piece of heart-shaped cake decorated with rainbow sprinkles and “Thank you” written in red frosting.