Sept. 16, 2009 -- D.J. Harper was nearly killed in a fiery car crash two months ago. But the 5-year-old boy was finally well enough to leave the hospital Tuesday, something his family says is nothing short of a miracle.
The Harper family of Tennessee was visiting Wisconsin in July when their SUV ran off the road in a Milwaukee neighborhood and burst into flames.
An entire community raced to the rescue and pulled D.J.'s mother and sister from the burning car. One neighbor ran to the scene and began breaking the car's window with a baseball bat, but D.J. remained trapped in a booster seat.
John Rechlitz and brother Joel saw the crash and did not think twice about jumping into the melting car to try to rescue the young boy.
"As soon as you crawl in you see the boy screaming and reaching for help," said Joel Rechlitz, a Milwaukee fireman.
The two men later said they saw the faces of their own children as they desperately tried to rescue D.J.
It wasn't until a police officer arrived with a fire extinguisher and a pocket knife that the team was able to cut D.J. loose from his seat belt.
Another neighbor grabbed a garden hose and spayed D.J.'s burns with water after he was removed from the vehicle.
D.J. suffered burns across his body and, although he can still hear, he lost his ears because of the burns.
"He knows that he was in a car accident and that the fire burnt him and that he no longer has ears," D.J.'s mother, Angela Harper, said. "That's one of the things he's looking forward to, is getting new ears."
A Community Comes Together to Help the Harper Family
Since the car accident, the Rechlitz brothers have raised money for the family, including setting up a registry to replace items that were lost in the crash. Because the Harpers were planning to stay in Wisconsin for a few months, they lost most of their belongings in the fire.
The Rechlitzs also found the Harpers a temporary place to live with one of their relatives while the family looks for another house with a bathtub to help D.J.'s recovery and without stairs so it is easier for him to maneuver.
"A community came together for one common goal to save this little boy's life," John Rechlitz said.
The Harpers now consider the Rechlitz brothers part of the family and D.J. refers to his rescuers as "Uncle John" and "Uncle Joel," and says he wants to ride in a fire truck as soon as he is better.
It could take years for D.J. to recover from his burns and get the necessary skin grafts. The family decided they want to spend that time living in the same city in which he was rescued.
"We just want to be able to give back to a community that has given us so much," Angela Harper said.