Special Agents David Ko, Jack Walker, Justin Widup, and Michael Walker

(Federal Bureau of Investigation, Texas)

On August 26, 2017, Category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas. The hurricane wreaked havoc, inflicting significant wind damage and causing historic flooding along the gulf coast. As Hurricane Harvey stalled over the City of Houston, the storm dropped more than 50 inches of rain in some areas. This was the largest recorded total rainfall in the continental United States and resulted in catastrophic flooding in and around Houston.

Having exhausted all available resources in their efforts to save lives during a night of multiple high-water rescues, a Houston Police Department (HPD) assistant chief made a desperate call to FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) Mark Webster. He requested help to rescue more than 100 Houston Police officers, including the chief of police, and citizens who were trapped in an area inaccessible by road and experiencing catastrophic flash flooding.

Recognizing the gravity of the life-threatening situation, ASAC Webster organized a rescue party of FBI Houston SWAT team members. The team included Acting Supervisory Special Agent Jack Walker and Special Agents David Ko and Justin Widup. They first navigated Houston’s flooded streets to retrieve the FBI’s 5-ton truck and an inflatable boat from the Houston Field Office. They quickly formulated a rescue plan and set out to rescue the trapped Houston Police officers and citizens. This team braved the 4-foot deep water on five separate occasions and rescued all of the officers and citizens trapped by the rushing water. Without regard for their own personal safety, the agents unquestionably saved lives before the floodwater overtook their position.

After successfully completing this complicated and dangerous rescue operation, the team returned to the Houston Field Office and was soon called again to assist HPD, which had 30 more officers trapped in a police substation in southwest Houston. The FBI team was joined by ASAC Webster and FBI Acting SWAT Senior Team Leader Michael Walker, and they set out in the 5-ton truck and a pickup truck towing a Zodiac inflatable boat. However, the rushing high water overwhelmed the pickup and the trailer, and the team was forced to return to the field office and exchange it for a second 5-ton truck. The five-person team and two 5-ton trucks traversed the flooded city, and by dawn the substation was flooded with more than 3 feet of water that was still rising. The FBI team quickly loaded the 30 police officers into the trucks and rapidly departed the area to avoid being trapped by the floodwater.

While maneuvering to a safer location, the team came upon civilians trapped at a nearby apartment complex. The victims were unable to swim or wade in the fast moving water and many were tending toddler-aged children. They stood on top of cars as their only refuge from the rising floodwater. The FBI team carried them one by one through fast moving, chest deep water and loaded them into the trucks. As team members navigated the flooded streets to a high ground shelter, they encountered more citizens trapped in a flooding restaurant. The one-story shelter was soon to be overcome by the rising flood. The team executed another dangerous rescue operation and ultimately moved all survivors to a safe shelter. These heroic actions saved at least 50 lives.

At the request of the Houston Police Department, which was quickly overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy and threat to human life, FBI special agents helped rescue more than 130 trapped Houston police officers and more than 30 trapped citizens in less than 24 hours. These agents, whose own homes faced imminent flooding, braved rapidly rising water and faced the risk of death or injury as they worked together to save lives during a night of multiple high water rescues. The actions of Special Agents David Ko, Jack Walker, Justin Widup, and Michael Walker embody the FBI’s core values of leadership and compassion. Personally placing themselves in jeopardy to safeguard the lives of others and acting with incredible drive under life-threatening conditions, these special agents are a true testament to the FBI’s continuing resolve to serve and protect the citizens of the United States.

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