RAF MILDENHALL, England — As Laci Wood was driving home from RAF Mildenhall, the traffic slowed to avoid something in the road.

One at a time, cars went around the object. Then it was Wood’s turn.

“He just stood there stock-still,” she said. “When I was passing him, his face just broke my heart. He looked like he was about to burst into tears.

“As I looked in my rear-view mirror, I thought, ‘That can’t be right.’ ”

The boy was trying to kill himself by jumping in front of traffic. That night, Oct. 11, Senior Airman Laci Wood, 23, became his guardian angel.

“As soon as it was safe to pull over, I did,” said Wood, a weather forecaster for the 100th Operation Support Squadron. “I didn’t just walk over to him. I ran.

“I said, ‘Sweetie, this isn’t a safe situation. You need to get out of the road.’ He was pulling away. He said, ‘Leave me alone. Let me kill myself.’

“I was holding him, hugging him. He was crying in my arms and I kind of scooted us onto the sidewalk.”

The 12-year-old told Wood he had argued with his mother; she was “drowning him,” was how he put it. His grandfather was a grumpy old man who had “pushed him off a cliff.” He hadn’t seen his father for a long time. His parents were divorced.

“He didn’t feel his life was worth living,” Wood said. “He felt his life was crap.”

A U.S. security forces truck passed by about 15 minutes later and Wood flagged it down. She was told they’d call the British police.

The two waited another 15 minutes or so. The sun was going down and the air was getting colder. The boy, whose identity is not being revealed, wore a red shirt and no jacket.

Wood told the boy her name, how old she was and what she did for a living. Then she decided the two would walk to security Gate 9 at Mildenhall, about a mile down the road.

“Even though my car was there, I was still a stranger to him,” she said.

As they walked, Wood stayed between the boy and the road. One time a car came by and the boy grabbed her hand and pulled her onto the grass.

“We don’t want you getting hit,” he said.

At the guard shack, they met a guy named Steve. Steve and the boy did some male bonding.

“The boy was a little upset,” said Airman 1st Class Stephen Blevins of the 100th Security Forces Squadron. “Things were a little military. I had my weapon — a 9 mm — on me.

“I think he thought we were going to be mean to him.”

Blevins said the boy said some heavy stuff about his home life.

“He was personable and down-to- earth,” Blevins said. “He wanted to talk.”

So they did, discussing airplanes, “Yank” drivers and football — both the British and American kind.

“By the end, he was laughing and joking with us,” Wood said. “He decided we weren’t so bad. His mother had dated a couple military men and they’d treated her badly.”

Police from the British Ministry of Defense — who handle calls from the base — finally came and took over the situation. They were stern with the boy, Wood and Blevins said, asking a few questions and then taking him away.

Wood said she wished she had gone with them. She wanted his mother to know what happened and see that the boy got counseling.

She filled out a report for base security and went home.

“I called my mom and I cried,” said Wood, who is from Lewisville, Texas. “I was shocked that any 12-year-old boy would take his life. I couldn’t help but feel, ‘If I was your mom, I would never let you feel this way or let it get this bad.’

“But sometimes parents are the last ones to know.”

Wood said she tried calling British police to find out what happened to her new friend. She wants to know how he is doing.

Last week, Wood transferred from Mildenhall to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. But before she left, she was presented an Air Force Achievement Medal — Oak Leaf Cluster for her heroics. She wished it didn’t have to happen.

“Things would be much better off if he didn’t think he had to take his life, instead of me getting all this attention,” Wood said.

“Just a kid 12 years old and he felt he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. I think maybe he wanted some attention, someone to realize that he wasn’t OK.

“I think it was an eye-opener for him that people do care. Even strangers.”

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