Teen climbs tower to protect brother

James McNeil, 17, did not hesitate to scale a 10-story, 120-foot utility tower near his home - defying 230,000 volts of electricity - to protect his 10-year-old autistic brother, John.

James and his sister, Joy, 20, were home with their younger brother when they realized the boy was climbing the utility tower - made of narrow metal. John had always been fascinated with heights.James ran outside and tried to coax his brother to come down. When the boy continued up, James followed.

"John went all the way to the top and I followed," James said. "I made sure he was safe and got a death grip on him, praying that he would get down safely."

James stayed in that position for the next two hours and 15 minutes - singing "I Am a Child of God" to John in an attempt to keep him calm.

Television reporters in helicopters circled above the boys. Below them hundreds of spectators gathered. Radio stations made them the focus of drive-time programs. Local television shows, and those in other cities, were interrupted to cover rescue attempts.

The attention excited young John - who never realized he was in any danger. Autism can impede the ability to relate to events.

One firefighter climbed to the boys and secured them to the tower. They were rescued when a crane lifted a platform to them, and they climbed aboard.

The media dubbed James a hero for his actions, but he looks at it differently. "I just did what came to me," he said. "I never thought about anything till I got up there."

Saundra McNeil, the boys' mother, watched intently as firefighters rescued her sons. She could not do any more "than pray them down."

The McNeils, who were not home when John climbed the tower, said they were comforted when they heard James was with him. "My husband said that when he heard James was there, he knew John would be OK. He knew that James would take good care of him."

Sister McNeil said James has always been a good kid. "He was already a hero to me because he takes such good care of his brother."

The McNeils' bishop, Brent Bulloch, said he has watched the older children look after John for years. "The need to take care of

JohnT is relentless," said Bishop Bulloch. "James just accepts that as one of the responsibilities that he has in this life."

But James and his family say they don't mind looking out for John.

James would even climb another tower. "I would do it again with as little thought as before - none whatsoever," he said. "I love him dearly."

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