Associated Press
Friday, April 25, 1997

12-year-old hailed for saving Finnish woman via computer

DENTON, Texas (AP) -- A 12-year-old boy is being hailed as an Internet hero for summoning help for a woman seriously ill half a world away in Finland.

At first, Sean Redden said, he couldn't tell whether the ``sob'' and ``pain'' messages flashing across his computer screen were real or part of a game in the Internet chat room he had logged onto.

But in the end, the middle school student decided to take the messages seriously, and his actions, with help from his mother, local sheriff's dispatchers, international operators, and Finnish paramedics, may have saved the woman's life.

The episode happened April 14, but it took until this week for Texas authorities to verify through Interpol, the international police agency, that the whole thing was not a hoax. Tarja Laitinen, a 20-year-old business student in Kerava, Finland, indeed was in serious trouble.

``Ms. Laitinen got the medical attention she badly needed that night and is now doing well'', reads the international police agency teletype message routed Monday through to local sheriff's dispatchers.

``It was real.''

``To be honest'', Sean said between television interviews this week, ``I'm kind of embarrassed - not that I helped her but that all this happened.''

Sean said he was playing a character in a chat room, a cyber fantasy world where visitors play make-believe. A new character entered the room, saying, ``Hello, help me.''

Some took it to be just another fantasy, but Sean typed, ``What's the matter?'' The woman responded that she was an asthmatic college student in Finland who had stayed late in the computer lab, had gotten locked in, and was having trouble breathing. She said she was getting worse by the minute and gave details including her name and address.

``It was too real to be a joke'', Sean said. He summoned his mother, Sharon Redden, and she called 911.

Sheriff's dispatchers had Ms. Redden relay questions to her son to get more detail on the woman's condition and whereabouts. A local phone operator was enlisted in the rescue effort and began calling Finnish operators.

Eventually, an ambulance crew was sent to the Finnish school, but it still took some time for rescuers to find Ms. Laitinen, with help from the messages she was sending to Sean and he was relaying.

``She started saying, `It's getting worse','' Sean said. ``And our modem is, like, the slowest in the universe. I was pretty nervous.''

Finally, she sent a message saying she could hear the paramedics in the hallway. Then the woman's sign-on disappeared.

For days, no one knew what had become of her or even whether the whole incident was real. Finally, the word came from Interpol that Ms. Laitinen was all right.

``By keeping on the computer with her, doing what was necessary, (Sean) did save someone's life'', Denton County Sheriff Weldon Lucas said.

``Everyone at first thought it was a hoax, even him. It turned out great.''

Copyright © 1997 by Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.