Stranger Saves Baby from Fire & Disappears. 46 Years Later, Mystery Unravels


On July 2, 1971 a 24-year-old Fresno City College student was heading home after a night at the car races. On his route, he noticed an unnatural glow and headed toward what he assumed was a fire.

He arrived to a house fire with three young girls outside in nightgowns and a frantic mother screaming that her baby was inside. Police had arrived, but the fire department had not.

The terrified mother, Carol Magee, told police and the stranger which room the baby was in. There was no time to waste.

Police broke the window and hoisted the slim college student into a smoke-filled room where the baby was happy and unharmed. The passing stranger picked up the child, handed it through the window, then climbed out of the burning house, cutting himself in the process.

A job done, the man walked away from the scene and returned to his life, never finding out about the infant he’d saved. Moments later, the ceiling collapsed and the baby’s room was engulfed in flames.

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The fire was covered by the Fresno Bee. A friend of the stranger contacted the newspaper to inform them that the mysterious stranger’s last name was Freund.

The family, however, couldn’t locate their hero; they never got to say “thank you.” Then, Cyndee Farr-Gutierrez, one of the little girls who had been outside that night, wrote about the childhood fire for a college class assignment that got her thinking.

Farr-Guiterrez wrote a Thank You letter and emailed it to The Fresno Bee requesting that they print the letter as an advertisement. If Freund still lived in the area, maybe he would see it.

Instead, The Fresno Bee helped Farr-Guiterrez find the man that saved her little brother’s life. Late last year, she and her sisters visited Rick Freund for the first time and were finally able to express their appreciation.

Meeting with the sisters was when Freund learned that the baby he’d saved was a boy, Robert “Bobby” Magee. Bobby co-owns Pumpkin King Pumpkin Patch in Fresno and has used his seasonal influence to facilitate an annual blood drive benefiting the Central California Blood Center.

“We put a lot of sweat and blood and tears into that blood drive and I guess that will be what I’m most proud of, that every year we get to go down there and save lives,” Bobby commented on the 18,000 units of blood they’ve collected over the past 18 years.

Shortly after the initial meeting with the thankful sisters, Bobby and his family met with Freund at a restaurant. Bobby learned that Freund served as a military policeman for the Army and owns a trucking company.

Bobby, 47, lives in Coarsegold’s Yosemite Lakes Park during the pumpkin patch off-season. He works as a carpenter and prides himself on being a craftsman.

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Unfortunately, Carol would never get the chance to thank Freund face-to-face; she died in 2003. She’d submitted her own Thank You letter — penned as Bobby —  which was printed when Freund was nominated for a meritorious service award in 1971.

You brought me to safety and disappeared before my parents could express their gratitude, but heroes don’t want to be thanked.

Thank you is too inadequate for saving my life. But I know that mommy and daddy will do their best to teach me right from wrong and to do just like you did.

You saw it had to be done and you did it. We will never forget you.

– Bobby

While Bobby’s life-saving contributions are through organized service, Freund has often been the hero passing by at the right time. He saved another stranger who was choking with the Heimlich maneuver and stepped in to perform CPR on a heart attack victim at a funeral and a dog whilst hunting.

Magee classifies Freund’s repeated willingness to get involved as “Deep Breath Moments.” “You see something, and you take a deep breath and no one else is going to (help) so – boom! You go and do it,” Magee explained.

Among other things, the men share an enthusiasm for hunting and plan to go on a trip together in the future. Freund plans to get all future pumpkins from The Pumpkin King.

Every once in a while we are presented with a situation where our help is needed and we have to make a split-second choice. Rarely do we know the full ramifications of action or inaction.

On that summer night in 1971, a young man saw a family in need, lent a hand, and went on with life, never looking for accolades. As it turned out, the boy he saved went on to save the lives of so many more.

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