[Editor’s note: Following an investigation by the Portsmouth Fire Department, the sailor featured in a Navy news release admitted Monday he wasn’t telling the truth: “Ford crewmember recants story of how he helped save children from burning building, officials say.”]

A sailor pulled two children from the second story window of a burning building in Portsmouth, Va.

Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Nathaniel Atkins was on his way home from the grocery store June 24 when he saw a crowd gathered outside a burning house. After stopping to help, he was informed there were still children trapped inside.

Seeing that the children were trapped on the second story of the four-apartment duplex, he retrieved a ladder from a nearby home and climbed up to rescue the children.

All told, Atkins and a neighbor managed to pull three girls from the burning building by the time firefighters arrived.

Atkins has served in the Navy for more than a decade and is currently assigned to the aircraft carrier Gerald R Ford in Norfolk, Va. His training at sea included numerous hours of firefighting training.

“My training helped me establish a goal and accomplish the goal, get the kids out, keep calm, assess the situation, and make sure that nothing I’m going to do is going to hurt me or anybody else,” Atkins said in a Navy news release.

Atkins and firefighters were unable to reach a 70-year-old woman in another unit who perished in the fire.

“I wish that I had been there sooner. I could have saved the older woman,” Atkins told local news.

Portsmouth police believe the fire may have been intentionally started and have identified three persons of interest in the case.

Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.

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