The name “Russell Allen Hill” is likely one that you may not know, but it’s a name that you should.
On Nov. 2, 2014, Russell Hill was arriving at the rental property he and his wife, Clarissa Hill, owned on Gladstone Avenue in Indianapolis. No one was living there at the time. He had just left the family’s residence on Tiffany Drive. Hill worked as “scrap guy,” as he explained, doing odd jobs in the neighborhood. He had worked for RCA Records for 17 years. Clarissa Hill worked for a health insurance company in Indianapolis. Russell Hill’s goal that fall day was to do some modest work in the garage at the rental property.
But fate had a different role for Hill to play on that date in that place in this city.
“I was just backing up my truck at the house when I heard dogs barking,” Russell Hill said. “I heard a child yelling. At first, I thought it was just a kid playing with their dogs. Then the screams became louder.”
He got out of his vehicle and saw two pit bull dogs attacking a young boy at 31st Street and Gladstone Avenue.
“I looked around for others to help the little boy, but no one else intervened,” Hill said. He was 60 years old at the time. “I couldn’t just stand there and watch those dogs attack the boy. He was such a little guy. And those dogs — they were killing machines. They were not pets.”
The boy was 12 years old at the time.
Mr. Hill grabbed a log — he didn’t have much else to fight with — and hit the pit bull dogs a number of times. He was successful in getting the two pit bulls off of the child, and he then pushed the little boy through a fence.
But then the pit bull dogs turned their attention to him. “The pit bulls did not seem to have any problem taking me down — and I was about 240 pounds,” Hill said. The attacks were brutal. They slammed him to the pavement — twice. His hearing is still affected years later. The pit bull dogs tore off his clothing and bit him all over his body. They attempted to rip off portions of his fingers and his left foot.
The pit bull dogs attacked Russell Hill for about four minutes.
Then the rescuer was rescued himself.
A hero in the uniform of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department arrived on the scene.
“Officer Michael Darst is our hero,” stated both Russell and Clarissa.
Hill continued, “He made split-second decisions that saved my life. As officer Darst tried to get the two pit bull dogs off of me, the pit bulls went after him. He shot one of the dogs — several times — to put it down. The other dog ran from the scene and was later taken.”
“Had officer Darst not arrived and taken the actions he did, my husband would not likely have survived the attacks,” Clarissa said. “We are forever grateful for what officer Darst did that day.”
Clarissa was with their son, RJ, at the family’s residence on Tiffany Drive. A phone call alerted her of the events happening a few miles away.
“I dropped the phone,” Clarissa said. “RJ picked it up and took the information. He then drove me to the scene at 31st and Gladstone.”
As they arrived, Hill was being loaded into an ambulance.
“I wanted to go in the ambulance with Russell,” Clarissa said. “I wanted to be with my husband, but the ambulance driver said ‘no.’ He knew my niece and said he would get Russell as quick as possible to the hospital. Another man — a stranger — heard what was being said and was kind enough to offer to drive me and RJ to the hospital. RJ got in the front and I got in the back seat.”
When they got to the Indiana University Health Methodist Level I Trauma Center (IU Methodist), Clarissa Hill saw the full extent of what had happened.
“I passed out at seeing Russell in the hospital,” Clarissa said. “You couldn’t see much beyond the blood. He was covered with his blood from the wounds inflicted by those pit bull dogs.
“I did not think he would survive,” she said. “The doctors were concerned about the risk of infection of the wounds.”
Both of the Hills expressed deep appreciation for the care furnished by the doctors, nurses, administrators, and all of the others involved in providing the needed medical care. Hill spent more than two weeks in the hospital. He had two blood transfusions and five surgeries to try to repair the damage done by the two pit bull dogs.
Beyond the medical care provided at IU Methodist, the medical center also provided spiritual care. Two Methodist chaplains provided pastoral compassion to the Hill family. “Both men were very helpful,” noted Clarissa. “They told us not to worry. That things would work out.”
One of the things people may not realize is the full extent of the financial costs involved in a situation like this. Not just the expenses for medical care and after-care. But just the regular costs of living.
“We still had a mortgage to pay,” Clarissa said. “Russell wasn’t able to bring in any income because of his injuries. I needed to take a leave of absence — without pay — for about seven weeks to help care for him. Our niece set up a GoFundMe account that helped raise some funds so that we could continue to pay our regular bills plus dealing with the aftermath of the pit bull attacks.”
After being released from the hospital, Hill stayed at the home of his sister-in-law for about a month.
“She had a single-story house,” Hill said. “I wasn’t able to walk well. At the time, climbing stairs was not possible for me.”
A problem that exacerbated the situation was that Hill no longer had health insurance. “Russell asked me to cancel his health insurance a couple months before the pit bull attacks,” Clarissa explained. “He wanted to save some money and didn’t see the need for health insurance. Of course, we had no idea that the attacks were going to happen.”
While still at IU Methodist, the Hills received a special visitor one day.
“The president of the hospital came to talk with us,” Clarissa said. “He was there for only two or three minutes, but what he said to us removed a tremendous burden. He told us ‘We’re going to take of you’ and they did.”
The Hills indicated that medical costs at IU Methodist were approximately $170,000.
IU Methodist waived all costs.
The child saved by Hill survived the brutal attacks by the pit bull dogs. Prior to Hill coming on the scene, a woman had tried to stop the pit bulls from attacking the child.
“I was told later that the woman had used tree branches and a fire extinguisher to try to get the dogs off of the boy, but that didn’t work,” Hill said.
It was moments later that Hill took the actions that ultimately saved the child.
“Those pit bulls were biting him on his legs,” Hill explained. “They ripped his clothes off his body. There’s no doubt that the pit bulls would have killed the child. He was such a little boy, small for his age. It was horrific.”
Reports indicated that once Hill got the two pit bull dogs off of the boy and got the child through the fence, a neighbor wrapped the child in a blanket and took him from the scene. The child was then taken to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health for medical care.
“We met his mother in person and spoke with the grandmother of the boy by telephone,” the Hills said. “They were so grateful. The call with the grandmother in Louisiana was very emotional. They’re good people. Our understanding is that the mother and child left Indianapolis after the attacks to be with the grandmother in Louisiana.”
On Sept. 24, 2015, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission of Pittsburgh announced that Russell Allen Hill was being awarded the Carnegie Medal: “The medal is awarded to those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.” The statement from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission regarding Mr. Hill is as follows:
“Russell Allen Hill rescued Jalon J. Lewis from attacking dogs, Indianapolis, Indiana, November 2, 2014. Jalon, 12, was walking through a residential neighborhood when two pit bulls, weighing about 65 and 70 pounds, attacked and pinned him against a fence. The dogs bit him repeatedly. Hill, 60, handyman, was seated in his truck, parked at a property about 110 feet away, when he heard screaming and growling from the scene. He grabbed a log from the property, ran to Jalon, and swung the log a few times, striking the dogs until they stopped attacking the boy. Hill then grabbed Jalon by the shoulders and pulled him toward the nearby street intersection. The dogs then attacked Hill, knocking him to the street, and repeatedly bit him about the arms and legs, chewing off most of his clothing. A police officer responded about four minutes after the attack on Hill commenced and halted it by shooting one of the dogs, dispatching it. Jalon was hospitalized a day for treatment of multiple puncture wounds and cuts. Hill was hospitalized 15 days for treatment, including surgeries, of significant bite wounds to his extremities, resulting in tissue loss. He recovered.”
With the medal came a financial grant of $6,000 to Russell Hill.
Officer Darst was not eligible for an honor from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission because only civilians are able to receive the Carnegie Medal.
IU Methodist also honored Russell Hill. The hospital named him a Hero: “HERO is an ordinary person facing extraordinary circumstances and acting with courage, honor & self-sacrifice.” In addition, according to Clarissa, IU Methodist honored officer Darst.
Though he sometimes still needs a cane to walk, Hill is pleased he could help at that critical moment on Nov. 2, 2014.
“The child is alive. I’m alive.”
Today, both Russell and Clarissa are retired — Clarissa retired in 2016 – and still live in the same home in Indianapolis.
Given everything that happened — the physical pain, the trauma, the financial concerns, everything — Hill was asked if he would do it again.
Without hesitation, the answer was “Yes.”
Russell Allen Hill is a name that all those in Indianapolis and beyond should know.
Do you have questions about communities in Indianapolis? A street name? A landmark? Your questions may be used in a future news column. Contact Richard McDonough at firstname.lastname@example.org.