June 18 was supposed to be a day off for Matthew Schierloh.
Normally, Schierloh lives life always on guard; as an agent in the U.S. Secret Service, he has to be. His wife, Jessica, said going to the beach is the way he likes to decompress and relax. Matthew had just returned from a trip to Belgium, and the family, which includes their two children, decided to take a day at the beach. The Schierlohs have several family members who live around Milton, so Broadkill Beach is where they like to go.
On that Juneteenth day, their neighbor, Butch Marge, was looking at the ocean through a pair of binoculars when he spotted something in the water. He was unsure of what it was, but he thought it did not look right. Broadkill Beach is unguarded; there are no lifeguards on duty.
Matthew said he saw the woman way out in the bay, about 400 to 500 yards out. She had lost her paddle and fallen off her raft, and he could tell she was in serious trouble. He said he had seen her go past him out on the water earlier in the day, so he recognized the raft.
Jessica said they know from experience that the waters of Delaware Bay around Broadkill Beach can be somewhat unpredictable, and with the wind blowing, the woman was drifting farther and farther out. She said there were other people on the beach, but the woman was so far out they couldn’t have seen or heard her; Jessica said if not for Marge seeing her with the binoculars, they would not have noticed her.
Despite having no floatation devices or lifejackets around, and not being trained in water rescues, Matthew went into the water to assist the woman. He said the current was very strong. When he got near her, the woman was clearly frightened and exhausted, and she panicked, jumping on his back and hanging onto his neck.
Fearing he would drown too, Matthew’s Secret Service training kicked in. He settled the woman down and began figuring out a way to get both of them back to shore. He got ahold of her raft, giving her something to cling to as they began swimming toward the shore. Two kayakers in the area came by to lend a hand; Matthew said he did not think he and the woman could manage to hold onto the kayaks, so he asked the kayakers to row alongside him to make sure they got back to shore.
Jessica said by the time they got back, they had drifted from West Virginia Street five streets north to the area of Georgia and Florida streets.
Matthew said they took the woman back to their house, where she identified herself as Mary Tucker, and said this was her last day of vacation before going home. Matthew said once Tucker regained her composure, she said she was surprised by the current and was clearly shaken up by the experience. He said the same went for his family, especially his youngest kids, Adeline and Hatcher, who saw the whole thing from the shore. The Schierlohs said they did not exchange information with Tucker before going their separate ways, which Matthew said he regrets doing.
While the experience was traumatic for everyone involved, Matthew said he did not regret going into the water.
“I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had done nothing,” he said.
Matthew and Jessica said since that day, they have made sure to take more precautions when going to an unguarded beach, such as bringing along a first aid kit and a floatation device. They said they hope people at the beaches, especially unguarded ones, stay aware of their surroundings and of other people.
Jessica said, “We debated whether to share this experience publicly, but decided that it was to the benefit of others to share our lesson. To all the visitors who enjoy the beach, please take the extra step to learn and practice water-safety basics. We were all lucky to have a successful outcome, this time.”