Officer Jody Thompson came across a shivering and bruised 8-year-old who had escaped from a trash can filled with cold water

By Cathy Free
July 24, 2017 02:27 PM

Jody Thompson could have gone home when he heard the call come over his police radio about domestic child abuse in his hometown of Poteau, Oklahoma. He had spent the day away at a law enforcement training session and wasn’t even on duty when he arrived back in town that night.

Something, though, compelled him to offer his assistance that April evening in 2015.

“I had a gut feeling,” he tells PEOPLE, “that this was my call to take.”

And that is how Jody, a patrol officer for the Poteau Police Department, came across a shivering and bruised 8-year-old named John who had escaped from a trash can filled with cold water, where he’d been tied up by his parents as punishment and left while they went into town.

“He’d gotten his hands free, broken the padlock on the door of the house and ran to the nearest neighbor,” recalls Jody, now 38. “It turned out that his parents had done this to him hundreds of times. They’d tie his hands together, put him on his knees in the can, fill it with water up to his head, then add ice to it. I’d never seen anything more horrific and upsetting in my life.”

Credit: Jody Thompson

Jody took John to a hospital emergency room, where the malnourished and battered boy was admitted to intensive care for two days.

“When I went home to my family, I couldn’t stop worrying about him,” he recalls, “and for two days, I couldn’t sleep or eat. On the morning of the third day, I woke up and thought, ‘I want John to live with me.’ “

Jody didn’t tell his wife, Jeannie, and two sons, Ryan, now 16, and Charley, now 10, his thoughts. And as it turned out, he didn’t have to.

“I went to the hospital, asked John if he’d like to come home with me, then called child welfare workers to get everything rolling,” he tells PEOPLE. “When Jeannie got off work and saw us waiting in the front yard for her, she immediately understood. She got out of the car, gave John a big hug and we’ve never looked back.”

Not only did Jody and Jeannie, a 37-year-old manager of a women’s crisis center, arrange to adopt John, now 10, they also adopted his baby sister, Paizley, who was born during her parents’ incarceration in prison for child abuse. In addition, Jeannie gave birth last year to a daughter, Zaven now 1 — the same age as Paizley.

Credit: Jody Thompson

“We just tell everyone they’re twins — it’s easier,” says Jody. “We certainly didn’t plan to have five children, but we’re thrilled it’s worked out that way.”

Recently honored by the police department for going the extra mile to help the two siblings, “Jody’s actions as well as his family’s are second to none,” says Poteau Police Chief Stephen Fruen. “It’s men like (Jody) who make me proud of our law enforcement brothers and sisters.”

“It was just meant to be,” Jody tells PEOPLE. “I feel like I was put there for John that day.”

Now preparing to start the fifth grade, John regularly sees a counselor to work through the trauma he experienced, from the water torture to frequent beatings and starvation.

Credit: Jody Thompson

“School was a safe haven for him,” Jody tells PEOPLE, “because he got something to eat and nobody would beat him there. But 10 days prior to his rescue, his parents withheld him from school because he had so many bruises. It’s taken time to heal, but he’s doing very well. He’s a straight-A student now, ecstatic to have a forever family.”

Adds Jeannie: “John is a hero because he not only saved himself that day, but also unknowingly saved his little sister. Adding them to our family has been such a blessing, and we now can’t wait to see what our future holds.”

John, who helped pick out the car seat his new baby sister was brought home in, tells PEOPLE that he’s felt grateful every day since the Thompsons became his adoptive parents.

“If a kid needs a home today and somebody hears our story and gives that kid a home tomorrow, well, that’s pretty cool,” he says.