In the week since Justin Herron stepped in to stop an attempted sexual assault on a 71-year-old retired teacher in a park, he has been honored by the Tempe Police Department and done multiple interviews about the incident. The response to his good deed is not what he was expecting, but it is clear, Patriots fans and people across the country are in awe of his action.
But those close to him weren't surprised that when Herron saw trouble, he acted.
"The reaction from the media, I wasn't ready," Herron said in a phone interview on Thursday. "A lot of people said it would get big, but I didn't think it would get that big. The funny thing is with everyone who knows me personally, which warms my heart, they all said, 'Yeah, we're not surprised. We all figured you would do something like that.' So that really makes me feel good ... It gave me an idea that I'm doing things right."
While the media around this case, largely due to Herron's status as an NFL player, was more than he expected, Det. Natalie Barela said the attention highlights how everyday citizens are capable of helping one another. Herron was honored along side Phoenix resident, Murry Rogers, a dad who was setting up for his daughter's birthday party in the park that Saturday morning.
"It really resonates with people when they're like, here's this big, huge football player that intervene, but also, here's this dad that's in the park with his daughters," Barela said. "He intervened; anybody can do it. I think that will resonate with a lot of people. That doesn't matter who you are, you can still do something to help others, you can still intervene."
But in between the praise and the cameras were much smaller, impactful moments with Herron, Rogers and the victim, who were re-introduced before the press conference on Wednesday.
Barela recalled that emotional moment.
"When she came in, she embraced them immediately. She just literally ran into their arms … The victim was, as you can imagine, sobbing and just saying thank you, thank you," she said. "She backed up, and she looked at them and she said, 'I needed to see the faces of my angels again' … She was accompanied by her daughter, and she said, 'This is this is my daughter and I wanted to see her again. Until I saw your faces helping me, I wasn't sure I was going survive or ever see my daughter again."
Barela said they have reason to believe the perpetrator had intentions "of really harming her," saying he was a "violent predator." For the victim, so much was lost in an instant: a sense of safety and security, her "happy place" in the park.
But often times, the worst of humanity comes hand-in-hand with the best of it. Evil tried to preserve, but Herron and Rogers showing up like they did gives a sense of hope in an impossibly dark time for her.
"She said, 'I kept looking over at you. I could see the both of you. I was just trying to beg you to come help me. The next thing I knew, you were right there,'" Barela recalled. "She said, 'I really feel like you're my angels, and you were watching over me.' It was incredibly moving. It was something that I don't think anyone in our police department will ever forget. Justin particular just said, 'You're going to be okay. I know you're going to be okay.' She said, 'I think I'm going to be okay, too.'"
For Herron, this moment meant more than anything.
"I'm just happy that she's alive and that the situation didn't get worse, he said. "For her to call me her angel, it was when she said that, that resonated with me. More than other individuals calling me a hero, hearing her say that, really, it gives me chills talking about it."
As for the victim, Barela said that meeting the two men who helped her in a moment of need was a crucial step in moving forward.
"She knows that she has a long way to go for her recovery and I think the healing process, but I think that the start of her healing process is moving forward knowing that someone was watching over her, and for whatever reason, it did happen to be Justin and Murry in the park."