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‘Please Don’t Let Me Die’: Philadelphia Teen Gets Top Military Honor for Using Hoody to Save Friend’s Life In Shooting

After saving the life of his friend who was shot while attending a birthday party, a Philadelphia teen has been honored with one of the highest and rarest achievements a JROTC student can receive.

His district JROTC instructor said he was not surprised at the 17-year-old’s valiant display of heroism, noting he has been an exceptional cadet since he was a freshman.

On Friday, Kaheem Bailey-Taylor, a second lieutenant in the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, the highest ranking an 11th grader can hold, received the Medal of Heroism, the highest honor the U.S. Army gives to JROTC cadets, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Kaheem Bailey-Taylor receives military order for saving friend's life.
Kaheem Bailey-Taylor receives military order for saving a friend’s life. (Photo: Twitter/Philadelphia Schools)

The Medal of Heroism is a special recognition reserved for cadets who perform valiant acts demonstrating an “acceptance of danger and extraordinary responsibilities, exemplifying praiseworthy fortitude and courage,” and is rarely given. In fact, including Bailey-Taylor, there have only been 50 recipients.

Some of the last recipients posthumously awarded were three JROTC students who lost their lives in the 2018 during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Florida. Like Bailey-Taylor, these young people risked their lives for others.

It is awarded by the United States Department of the Army. 

Bailey-Taylor said to have received the medal is “a humbling experience.”

Lt. Col. Russell Gallagher, a district JROTC instructor who holds the position of PMA commandant and has been working in education for over 30 years, said he has never known a cadet who has been awarded the medal and believes Bailey-Taylor to be the first in Philadelphia to which the honor has been bestowed.

Kristian Ali, the principal of the Philadelphia Military Academy, the school Bailey-Taylor attends, said, “I am extremely overwhelmed with joy that we are here to celebrate the heroic acts of a young man who is the heart of this school.”

“He is an example of how outstanding our cadets can be, and he is an example for them to look up and for them to respect,” Ali said, according to CBS News.

On Wednesday, Aug. 17,  2022, Bailey-Taylor left the rowhouse where his cousin was having his 17th birthday party on North Bonsall Street. After getting about a halfway down the block, he heard gunshots and ran back to the house. When he went inside, he saw four people shot, three of his cousins and his friend and classmate at the academy.

A quick assessment allowed Bailey-Taylor to determine the severity of the injuries and figure out what measures needed to be performed to preserve life. He noted his cousins’ wounds were not life-threatening, but that was not the case for his fellow cadet.

The other student had been shot in the stomach, and his injuries were, according to the teen, “potentially fatal” and “he needed to be rushed to the hospital ASAP.”

Before authorities arrived on the scene, Bailey-Taylor jumped into action, leaning on the first-aid instruction he learned from his studies in the JROTC and as a lifeguard.

He took off his hoodie sweatshirt and used it to apply pressure to the friend’s stomach wound.

Within minutes, two officers arrived, and Bailey-Taylor told them what he knew about the shooting and what he had done to stop the bleeding.

“I put my fingers inside his wound to stop him from bleeding out,” Bailey-Taylor said, telling the officers he kept talking to the young man so that he would not lose consciousness.

“He said, ‘Bailey-Taylor, please don’t let me die.’ That message will always stay with me. It was somebody that I look at as an older brother,” the cadet recalled of that day.

The officers placed the boy in the back of their patrol vehicle. Bailey-Taylor also got into the cruiser, sitting next to his friend and providing support in whatever capacity the officers needed.

The victim was taken to Temple University Hospital, where he received life-saving surgery and is on the way to a nearly complete recovery.

The commandant said he was not surprised at Bailey-Taylor’s heroism, saying he had been watching him for a while.

According to Gallagher, Bailey-Taylor is an attentive student who takes his responsibilities (whether in the school or during districtwide volunteer opportunities) seriously. He participates in summer training, mentors freshmen and monitors them during their lunch breaks.

“Even if he had not earned this medal, he would still be a rare student,” said Gallagher.

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington said the student’s action was “nothing short of an American hero.”

While an extraordinary cadet, achieving ranks and recognition most his age will never see, he is still a minor and said he has struggled with the trauma associated with seeing the results of gun violence.

“Too often, you hear about people my color and my age dying in Philadelphia because of gun violence,” said Bailey-Taylor. “Once I saw Col. Gallagher and [Principal Kristian] Ali, I just broke down. I knew that I was safe, and I knew that they were going to make sure I was OK.”

This is a reality for Bailey-Taylor.

ABC 6 News reports the month before his friend was shot, a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot after leaving a corner store around 11:30 p.m. on a Monday night in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood where he lives with his grandmother.

Police found 63 shell casings at the scene where Shawn Grant, the teen, was killed. Grant was not the target but a bystander at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Luckily, in this case, the cadet is on the mend, back in school and on track to graduate. In December 2022, Philadelphia police arrested a 17-year-old suspect in the shooting.

Bailey-Taylor is now turning his focus to the future, hoping to be accepted into Temple University’s ROTC and one day work for Homeland Security

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