Buffalo storm 'hero' known as 'Merry Christmas Jay' speaks out
"It was a matter of survival. It was just a very scary situation to be in."
The Buffalo storm hero who police have dubbed "Merry Christmas Jay" has been identified and is speaking out to ABC News.
Police in the town of Cheektowaga, just outside of Buffalo, credit 27-year-old Jay Withey with saving the lives of two dozen people during the deadly storm by rescuing strangers from cars trapped in the snow and bringing them into a school for shelter.
"I feel 100% that Jay's actions were heroic and 100% saved lives," Cheektowaga Police Chief Brian Gould said.
It all began when Withey went to pick up a friend who was stranded. But with only a quarter of a tank of gas left, his car quickly became stuck in the whiteout conditions.
"The wind blowing, the snow falling -- you couldn't see if you stuck your hand out. You couldn't see the tap of your fingers of your own hand," he said.
Soaking wet and freezing, Withey decided to seek shelter inside a local school and broke a window to get inside. But instead of hunkering down and resting, he ventured back out into the dangerous conditions to help others who were stranded.
"I can see there's a couple other vehicles stuck in the vicinity of the school. So I go to them and tell them I've broken into the school and that there’s heat in there," Withey said.
"It was a matter of survival. It was just a very scary situation to be in," he said.
"I thought we were going to die," said Sabrina Andino, one of the trapped drivers. "It was scary and unforgettable. But seeing Jay ... and getting us in the school really saved us."
After Withey gathered the stranded drivers inside the school, he pried open the kitchen door so they could find some food. He also went to the school nurse's office for blankets and water. He left the school's front door open overnight so anyone looking for safety could join them.
"We all came together," Andino said.
And now that group of strangers is planning a reunion for the summer.
Police found a note Withey left at the school, apologizing for breaking in.
"I’m terribly sorry about breaking the school window & for breaking in the kitchen … I had to do it to save everyone and get them shelter," the note said.
It was signed: "Merry Christmas, Jay."