By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
Goldsmith immediately ran after Johnson and saw the young boy, who never ventured out of the shallow end of the swimming pool at the Boys Ranch, go into the water. Goldsmith followed, quickly finding that the CAP canal is not a placid, shallow waterway.
The water was cold--64 degrees--and it flowed with bewildering turbulence. Entering the water in his dress clothes, Goldsmith had no idea it was 15 feet deep.
Graham, meanwhile, ran across the bridge and headed down the bank of the canal to locate Johnson, who was flailing wildly in the middle of the canal. Fleishman also crossed the road to keep up with the current, which was sweeping Goldsmith and Johnson beneath the bridge and down the canal.
Graham scrambled down a steel ladder embedded in the canal wall and stretched his body out, hoping Johnson would grab him.
"When I got down there, he was too far out and passed me," Graham said. "I don't recall making the decision, but the next thing I know, I was diving in the water and pushing myself out there."
The water was murky, and Graham couldn't find Johnson, who had gone underwater.
"And then there he was, right in my face," Graham said.
"He reached out and grabbed my hand, and I chugged him back over to the bank," he said. "Several times, I tried to tell him, 'Be still. I'll do this. Knock it off, kid.' He just fought me the whole time. I don't think he ever really knew I was there."
Graham and Johnson struggled for several minutes, reaching the side of the canal a couple of times. But the canal walls beneath water level were covered with algae. They were as slick as glass.
There was, Graham said, no way to get out.
Graham and Johnson continued their struggle.
"He [Johnson] pushed me under and climbed on top of me. I was like a rock or a board or something he was just climbing over," Graham said.
It had been more than 30 years since Graham had taken lifesaving courses, but he remembered that a person in danger of drowning should be approached from the rear. Surprising the victim and then stabilizing him quickly with his head above water is essential when attempting the rescue of a panic-stricken person.
"I tried several times to do that. One of those times, I let go and turned him around while trying to get away from him, and he was gone," Graham said. "It was just real surprising to me how one second he was there and then he was just totally gone." Graham soon realized he was seconds from going under himself. It was very difficult to breathe. His arms and legs felt dead.
"I knew I couldn't go after Lorenzo anymore, wherever he was," Graham said.
By this time, Goldsmith had managed to get out of the water. He still doesn't know how. Graham yelled at him to get help, and the prospective employee ran off toward the road to flag down a passing vehicle.
Fleishman, meanwhile, had entered the water downstream and began searching for Johnson. He couldn't find the boy, but quickly realized that Graham was now in trouble.
Fleishman and Graham drifted toward another steel ladder embedded in the canal bank. The ladders are placed every 700 feet. Fleishman grabbed the ladder and extended his legs toward Graham, knowing that if he floated by, the 49-year-old likely would never make it out of the canal alive.
"I don't remember anything but grabbing his blue jeans," Graham said.
Graham slowly pulled himself onto the bottom rung of the ladder and held on.
"At that point, I remember thinking, 'My head's out of water, and I got one hand on solid ground; I'm going to stay here all day, maybe a week.' I had no need to get anywhere at all," he said.
Slowly, Fleishman and Graham staggered up the ladder. Graham tried to stand up and collapsed face first in the dirt. "I realized my face was in the dirt, and I really didn't care," he said. "I never have been that tired in my life."
Once out, the men continued scanning the canal, hoping to see Johnson.
Lorenzo Johnson, who had a habit of running away but always coming back, would not return this time. His body was discovered seven days later, 15 miles downstream.
The Arizona Republic assigned Richard Robertson, a former city editor who is now on the newspaper's investigative team, and feature writer Paul Brinkley-Rogers to the Lorenzo Johnson story. Brinkley-Rogers went to Mississippi to attend Lorenzo's funeral and to make contact with the family. But the funeral was private, and Brinkley-Rogers was unable to interview Johnson's distraught mother, Robertson says.
A few weeks later, the Republic received a telephone call from an emotional Mrs. Dunwoody. During that phone call, Robertson says, she mentioned the possibility that her son may have been murdered.
"She was the one who raised, in an emotional kind of way, the questions about whether her son was killed," Robertson says. "We didn't plant any words in her mouth."