The scream heard around Washington

September 16, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Few 4-year-olds are rewarded for screaming.

But Rebecca "Becca" Burkett's piercing shriek on a June afternoon prevented her brother, John, 2, from being crushed to death underneath a car.

On Monday, Del. Jeff Coy, D-Franklin County, presented Becca, wearing a pink flowered dress, with a letter of commendation for heroism from President Bill Clinton and an award from the state House of Representatives.

Becca is the youngest person in Franklin County to receive the House award and one of very few people to have a personalized letter from the president, Coy said.


"Do you know what you did was the right thing?" Coy asked Becca. "Any time something like that happens, you can do it again."

Becca's mother, Polly Burkett, said her daughter was afraid she did something wrong by screaming.

She's hoping the awards will make her realize that screaming in this instance saved her brother's life.

The sister and brother were playing outside of their Wayne Avenue home on June 27 while Polly and her husband, Tom, were doing yard work.

When Becca screamed, Polly said she instantly knew something was wrong.

"All I thought was, `What happened?' This scream wasn't a normal, fighting scream," she said.

Polly and Tom rushed to the front of the home, where they discovered their son's leg pinned underneath a mid-sized car driven by a customer of Mary's Hair Salon, which shares the driveway with the Burketts.

Becca's scream not only alerted her parents, but the driver froze, preventing the car from backing up any further.

"That's how the car stopped," Becca said of her scream.

Polly instructed the driver to pull forward and then she pulled John out from underneath. When they discovered he couldn't stand up, they rushed him to Chambersburg Hospital, where he stayed for two days with a fractured pelvis and a bruise that ran almost the length of his little body.

Healing on its own and "with the help of a lot of prayers," Polly said, John limps only slightly now and should be back to normal by October.

"I look at both of them and thank God they're here," Polly said.

Becca's parents, grandparents and other family and friends crowded into Coy's Chambersburg, Pa., office for the award presentation, three of whom were recording the special occasion with a camera and videos.

Coy briefly explained the awards to Becca and told her who President Clinton is after she said she didn't know. He then read Clinton's letter, which states, "I am pleased to congratulate you for your heroic action. By acting so quickly when your brother was in danger, you helped to save his life. I am very proud of you for showing that one person really can make a difference."

Gripping the letter and award, Becca said she planned to keep them in her bedroom.

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