The Miracle at Snickers Gap – A young Ashburn man helps save a trapped child

The Miracle at Snickers Gap 
By Chris Wadsworth 

Friday, November 24. It was the end of back-breaking day. 

Zachary Turbyfill, 19, was home for Thanksgiving break from his freshman year at James Madison University. He had enjoyed the holiday with his parents and three brothers at their home in the Broadlands. And then he’d picked up a quick weekend job at the Snickers Gap Tree Farm near Round Hill in western Loudoun County. 

Ashburn resident Zachary Turbyfill with Ethan Chrisman, the boy he helped save.

All day long, he and his co-workers had gathered recently felled trees, loaded them onto carts for customers, driven them to another spot and unloaded them. Over and over since the crack of dawn. 

Now, the sun was setting. Snickers Gap was about to close after a busy “Black Friday” with long lines of cars filling the parking lot all day. Suddenly, all hell broke loose. 

“We were helping some guy load up this ginormous 11-plus-foot tree onto his car,” Zach recalled. “Then someone came sprinting down from the top of the mountain, and they were screaming that there was a kid trapped under a rock. We all looked at each other and were like, ‘What?’ And then everyone just started sprinting.” 

What happened over the next 30 minutes is etched in the minds of everyone who was at Snickers Gap that late Friday afternoon. Everyone except one person – 8-year-old Ethan Chrisman. He was the child pinned under an enormous boulder that had slid on top of him.

Ethan is from Carrollton in southeastern Virginia. He was at Snickers Gap that day getting a Christmas tree with his family. Ethan’s parents were back home, so his grandpa and grandma – Keith and Jeanie Baird – had brought him and his twin sister, Annabelle. They were joined by the twins’ aunt and uncle, Jen and Jarred Baird of Centreville, and their two young children. 

Ethan (in blue) playing with his sister and cousins minutes before the accident.

Jarred and Ethan’s grandparents had gone down to the parking lot to secure their tree to the top of one of their vehicles. Jen had stayed behind with the four children to let them play on a large pile of boulders and rocks that has been popular with kids and families for years.

“Ethan was making like a burrow, clearing out rocks and I guess he was sort of under one,” Jen Baird said. “Suddenly he screamed. It was a scream like I have never heard before. I put my 2-year-old down in the grass and climbed down. All I could see was his foot. The rock was covering everything but his one shoe.” 

In the center is the boulder Ethan Chrisman was trapped under.

No one else was around. This late in the day, most families had made their way to the parking lot and were leaving. Jen tried to lift the boulder, but it wouldn’t budge. Annabelle was screaming for help. Jen started screaming, too. 

“My hands were shaking,” she said. “My phone was at 13%. I unlocked [it] and called Jarred and said, ‘Help, help!’” 

“I was on top of my dad’s car strapping the Christmas tree to it when Jen called me,” Jarred Baird said. “She was frantic. I didn’t know what was going on. I jumped off of the car and took off running.” 

Jarred says he didn’t know what to think as he labored to climb the long, steep hill, but when a man came running down the hill past him yelling that they needed help, he says he started to think that maybe a boulder had fallen on someone.

But nothing prepared him for what he found when he reached his wife and the children. 

“Ethan’s face was just sticking out from the other side of the rock and he’s lying on his back,” Jarred said. “He’s looking up and he’s unconscious. His face was purple.”

‘Is my brother going to die?’ 

The man running down the hill who had passed Jarred was David Trout of Leesburg. He was wrapping up his tree shopping and was the first person to hear Jen’s and Annabelle’s screams. He had also tried to lift the huge rock, but when he realized he couldn’t move it, he decided to find help. He was also probably the person Zach Turbyfill heard yelling as he came through the trees. 

“We ran up there and I saw all the rocks,” Zach said. “And I see the sister of the kid who is trapped, and she is screaming, ‘Is my brother going to die?’” 

Zach recalled that by this point there were at least five people – he describes them as “big guys” – all trying to move the boulder, but it was going nowhere. Zach and others raced into the scrum, everyone fighting for balance and a foothold on the uneven rocks, trying with all their might to move the rock off Ethan. 

Zach admits the moment got the better of him and he hopes people will forgive him his language. “I had never seen anything this real,” he said. “We were all struggling – max effort – and I yelled, ‘We’re not stopping. Lift this f—ing rock.’ I was screaming.” 

The tree farm at Snickers Gap where Ethan Chrisman was trapped under a boulder. The pile of rocks can be seen at the bottom of the photograph.

The assembled men – and there was a woman in there, too – started counting a cadence so they would all lift at the same time. Over and over again. Suddenly, the rock shifted a bit. Everyone worked harder, lifted harder. 

The boulder moved a little bit more, someone grabbed Ethan and pulled him out, and then the boulder slid down onto some other rocks. 

“Someone carried him away from the rocks and put him in the grass,” Zach said. “Everyone was screaming, ‘He’s not breathing. He’s not breathing.’ His family was there crying. Everyone started praying.”

Amid the chaos, a former school security officer, a nurse, and a man with emergency medical training were in the small crowd that had now gathered, Ethan’s family said. They started doing CPR, taking his pulse, and trying to get Ethan to breathe.

‘Gam Gam is here’ 

During all this, Ethan’s grandmother, Jeanie, had been struggling to get up the mountain. She was wearing a medical boot on her foot due to an injured Achilles tendon. People were yelling that she needed help, and Zach Turbyfill ran to her. 

“I was in the black darkness. I couldn’t see anything,” Jeanie Baird said. “Finally, someone came over the top of the hill and came running for me. It must have been Zach and he helped me up that hill. My knees were jelly and he held me up and calmed me down.” 

“She said, ‘How is he? Is he alive?’” Zach recalled. “I said, ‘We got him out of the rocks,’ and she kept saying she needed to see him. She put her arm around me, and I helped carry her over to the kid where she fell over next to him crying.”

“I fell down on my knees and crawled over [to Ethan],” Jeanie said. “His little eyes had tears coming out each side and I kissed his cheek and said, ‘Gam Gam is here. Gam Gam is here.’” 

Meanwhile, Ethan’s uncle, Jarred, was frantically backing his car up the mountain to the scene. Realizing he couldn’t move the rock himself, he had run back down and gotten his car, thinking he could tie a rope to the boulder and use the car to pull it off Ethan. 

“When I pulled up, [Ethan] was not breathing and he did not have a heartbeat,” said Jarred, who watched the good Samaritans perform CPR while holding his wailing mother. “I was hysterical, but I calmed down and put my arms around her. And there was a very nice lady named Adelle who was holding her, too, and praying. And then they got him breathing again. They got his heart beating again. I said, ‘Look, mom. He’s breathing. He’s breathing.’” 

What followed is a painful mishmash of memories – people using their phones as flashlights, people crying and saying prayers, sirens in the distance, then ambulances pulling up. A stretcher. Ethan being whisked away to the parking lot below, where more people had gathered at a fence line and were praying together. Then a helicopter landing and a medical team flying with Ethan to Inova Fairfax Hospital, Northern Virginia’s Level 1 Trauma Center, where the most serious cases are taken. 

Ethan’s panicked family piled into their cars and took off toward the hospital.

The emergency medical helicopter arriving at Snickers Gap to transport Ethan Chrisman to Inova Fairfax Hospital.

The dozen – or was it two dozen – people who had gathered on the mountain tried to make sense of what had just happened as they slowly turned and headed toward their cars and home. 

“It felt so strange walking away after an ordeal like that,” Zach Turbyfill said. “It felt like a dream that didn’t really happen. We walked away in silence.”

‘I’m calling them angels’ 

When Ethan arrived at the hospital in Fairfax, he was having seizures and had to be intubated. One of his lungs had collapsed. He had two fractured vertebrae in his spine, a fractured left ankle, some scratches and lots of bruising. But he was alive. 

Ethan Chrisman in the hospital.

He spent a week in the hospital and was released wearing a back brace and a boot on his foot just like the one his grandmother had been wearing the night she struggled up the mountain at Snickers Gap to reach her injured grandson. 

“To end up at the top of a mountain with a nurse and a retired [security] officer and even an EMT guy who hadn’t planned on being at the tree farm but had a sudden urge to go that afternoon – it was a powerful moment,” said Jeanie Baird, her voice breaking. “So many people there – I’m calling them angels because I think God put the right people in the right place at the right moment to save Ethan.” 

Zach Turbyfill and Ethan Chrisman meet for the first time at a nature center in Richmond.

Zach Turbyfill is still a bit shell-shocked by the whole experience. He grew up going to the tree farm each December. He and his brothers played on those rocks when they were younger, even posing for family photos in front of them. When told Jeanie Baird had referred to the people on the mountain that night as “angels,” he demurs. 

“I think anyone in our situation would have done the same thing,” he said. “It just happened to be us.”

Ethan’s aunt, Jen, says her nephew remembers nothing of the incident and is expected to make a full recovery.  

“To me, it was a miracle,” she said. “Seeing everyone come together the way they did. The people that were placed there at that farm. I wish it didn’t happen in the first place, but things do happen. And weirdly enough, it kind of strengthened my faith. I am just so grateful.” 

Zach admits his faith is still forming, but he’s also inclined to believe something special was at work that night.

“It’s called faith because you have got to believe in it,” Zach said. “If there is a God, I believe he was watching over [Ethan], and I believe he’s supporting the family and has guided them through this troubling time.”


Hall of Heroes

For our cover story, Ashburn Magazine arranged for Zach Turbyfill to meet with Ethan Chrisman along with his sister and grandparents at a park in Richmond. The family was very happy to meet Zach in person (again) and have the opportunity to thank him. And Zach was thankful to get a high-five from Ethan and see how well he was doing.

But as discussed in the story, Zach was by no means the only good Samaritan at Snickers Gap that fateful evening. While no one is sure of the number — at least a dozen or more people came and helped. Some worked to lift the rock. Others offered prayers and comfort to the family while others rounded up help, called 911, or took care of Ethan’s young cousins. 

Ethan Chrisman meets with Brad Poindexter while still in the hospital. Poindexter performed CPR on Ethan and helped save his life.

The Baird family has been attempting to gather the names of everyone who contributed that evening in order to offer them their heartfelt thanks. While this list is not complete — and may never be complete — here are the names they know — and some they don’t know — among the “angels” who came to their rescue:

  • David Trout – first person to respond to cries for help, ran to get more people to help
  • Cameron Trout – David’s son, who helped comfort Ethan’s cousins during the incident
  • Amelia Trout, David’s wife, and Liam Trout, David’s son – offered support
  • Adelle Hansen – prayed with the family and comforted them
  • Ron Hansen, Adelle’s husband – offered support
  • Alexandra Walcott, Adelle’s daughter – prayed with the family
  • Noah Correa, Adelle’s son – a Marine, helped lift the rock
  • Ethan Correa, Adelle’s son – also a Marine, helped lift the rock
  • Sam Willard – worker at the tree farm who helped lift the rock
  • Brad Poindexter – performed CPR/chest compressions on Ethan to restart his heart
  • Katie Poindexter – on phone with 911
  • Unidentified nurse – helped stabilize Ethan and took his pulse
  • Unidentified military veteran – helped stabilize Ethan’s spine
  • Steven Turner (firefighter/EMT) and Ryan Pagan (paramedic) – ambulance crew who responded to Snickers Gap
  • Carolyn Trent: emergency flight nurse on the helicopter that flew Ethan to hospital