Official: Harford boy fell twice in creek, made arduous climb, before succumbing

John T. Robertson V, 14, of Harford and Oxford

HARFORD MILLS — Fourteen-year-old John T. Robertson V climbed up a steep bank into the brush before succumbing to hypothermia, a feat that would have required grit and strength after falling into Owego Creek’s icy waters, said Harford Fire Chief Daryl Cross.

Robertson died Saturday after accidentally falling twice into a six- to nine-feet-deep pool on the east branch of the creek, Cross said. The temperatures were bitterly cold Saturday, with the closest National Weather Service — the Binghamton station — recording an average temperature of 12 degrees, with a 8 mile an hour wind and snow. 

The teen climbed up the steep bank after his falls, trekking 25 feet into the brush, he said.

“It would have been very hard to get back out on the bank,” Cross said.

The ice on the pool was only an inch to an inch-and-a-half thick at the spots where Robertson fell through, and even thinner along the bank edges, he said.

Why Robertson was out on the ice-coated creek is unclear, Cross said.

“Nobody really knows,” he said. Cross noted the autistic teen had brought a snow shovel out to the creek and seemed to be trying to clear the surface of the ice.

We probably won’t ever know why he left the residence,” said State Trooper and Public Information Officer Aga Dembinska. “He was familiar with the area because that is his father’s residence and had gone to the creek often.”

Robertson also lived at his mother’s home in Oxford, Chenango County, Dembinska noted.

The Harford Fire Department, the Dryden Fire Department with their ice water rescue equipment and utility vehicle, the state police and the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department all responded Saturday to the creek near Route 200, Cross said. 

Still, it was difficult to find the boy in the dense vegetation, he said.

When rescuers found the teen, they started CPR, and with the help of Dryden’s UTV, were able to bring the boy off the bank, Cross said. Robertson was taken to Guthrie Medical Center where he was pronounced dead, according to state police.

An autopsy confirmed the boy suffered an accident when he fell through the ice, police said.

Family friend Mindie Lee Tweedie organized a fundraiser on the crowdsourcing site GoFundMe for Robertson’s family to help defray the costs of burying the boy. Tweedie remembers Robertson as “full of  an adventurous mind,” she wrote on the site.

“Johnny, you’re gone,” Rweedie wrote, “but we will never forget the sweet smile and the song you used to sing to us.”

The fundraiser has a goal of $10,000 and 107 donors have raised $4,378.

Cross noted the cost of the burial will likely be a hardship for the working class family.

“I’m sure they’re going to need that just to bury the boy,” he said.

Cross also extended thanks to all the Harford and Dryden volunteer firefighters that searched for Robertson on Saturday.

“We’re blessed that we have Dryden as a neighbor,” Cross said, especially thanking the volunteers that responded to the accident. “It’s a very sad thing.”