Humboldt Hill resident John Marciel doesn’t consider himself a hero.
The rest of the world does.
Marciel was at Ferndale’s Centerville Beach on Friday morning when he fought a mother off a child after the mother was allegedly attempting to perform an exorcism on the 11-year-old.
According to Lt. K. Swithenbank with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), Kimberly Felder, 45, had allegedly stripped the child naked and was shoving handfuls of sand in the child’s eyes and into the child’s mouth.
“The mother stated she was trying to remove the demons from the child,” stated Swithenbank in a press release.
The Ferndale mother — a former substitute and Ferndale Elementary School volleyball coach — continued the assault by “viciously striking, biting, and choking the child,” stated Swithenbank.
“When local citizen John Marciel arrived on scene, he immediately stepped in and attempted to restrain Felder and prevent further assault to the child,” stated the release. “Marciel struggled on the ground with Felder, while Felder continued her persistent attack on the child by hitting the child in the head with a piece of driftwood.”
A HCSO deputy arrived and Felder was finally pulled from the child and placed in handcuffs.
“John Marciel further assisted by tending to the child while deputies controlled Felder,” stated the release. “Emergency Medical Technicians arrived and transported the child to a hospital where she received further treatment for her injuries.”
The child, according to Swithenbank, received multiple injuries from the attack, including severe damage to her right ear. She was airlifted out of Humboldt County for medical care.
Ferndale Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Jerry Lema said volunteers responded to the call but were told to “stage” until law enforcement had secured the scene. Lema said volunteers waited near the Russ home until summoned by the HCSO.
Swithenbank also stated in the release that the assault was witnessed by a “crowd of approximately ten to 12 people.” That statement spurred hundreds of online comments, questioning why others didn’t step in to assist, like Marciel.
But in a telephone interview on Tuesday with Marciel, he told The Enterprise that the so-described “crowd” was his family.
“There’s seven of us,” he said when contacted at work. “We went there beachcombing and came up on the incident.”
Marciel, who stated he has been overwhelmed by the attention on him from around the world as the story has been picked up by news outlets far and wide, said that his mother-in-law “doesn’t do well with violence” and that his wife and daughter were consoling his mother-in-law.
“Emotions were running high with everyone,” he said. “I told my aunt-in-law to get back and I took charge of the whole situation and did what needed to be done. People’s emotions running high might have caused more problems . . . cooler heads prevailed.”
Marciel said that “it felt like forever” until law enforcement arrived.
“She was trying to bite at me, but mainly trying to hurt her child,” said the father of four.
Meanwhile, Ferndale Police Department (FPD) Chief Bret Smith confirmed that on June 14 at approximately 3:40 pm, one of his officers went to Felder’s home at 21 Shaw Avenue to perform a “welfare check.”
“No issues,” states the FPD log.
On Tuesday, Smith said that the welfare check was for a juvenile at that location.
“It was at the request of Child Welfare Services (CWS) regarding a follow-up on a medical issue,” stated Smith in an email.
FPD Sergeant Allan Billington said the FPD was restricted on making any other statements because of privacy statutes. He stated that the FPD visited Felder’s home because CWS had notified the FPD that “a child missed an appointment.”
Ferndale Unified School District Superintendent Jack Lakin confirmed that Felder had been hired as a substitute teacher. Her last day of employment was December 23, 2016 said Lakin. According to minutes from the FUSD Board of Trustees June 29, 2016 meeting, Felder was hired as the 7th grade volleyball coach.
As for the attention now placed on Marciel, including from the HCSO which stated that if it wasn’t for Marciel stepping in, “it is very likely that the child would have been killed by Felder,” Marciel said he has been overwhelmed.
“I didn’t want none of this at all,” he said. “I was hoping it would be done and over. I was just out to do the right thing. All the publicity . . . I didn’t think it would go like this. It’s been pretty overwhelming.”
After the child victim recovers, Marciel said he would like to see her again, only “if it doesn’t bring back bad memories of that day.
“She’ll forever be a part of my life and I would like to always be there for her,” he said. “I know I barely know her, but what we’ve both been through . . . I hope the best for her in life.”
Felder was booked into the Humboldt County Correctional Facility on suspicion of attempted homicide, assault with a deadly weapon, felony child abuse, and aggravated mayhem, according to the press release. Lt. Swithenbank also stated that the HCSO will be requesting that John Marciel be recognized for the Red Cross Life Saving Award.