It was just a little more than a week after the fire that would lead former Oakton High School student Tim Cocrane to be labeled a lifesaving hero, but the 21-year-old had just one thing on his mind: those he wasn't able to help.
Cocrane, a Herndon resident and a sophomore of Longwood University — a school of approximately 3,700 student located in Farmville about 65 miles southwest of Richmond — was taking a walk off campus in the early morning hours of Saturday, March 3, when he came upon the home of a fraternity brother engulfed in flames.
"I was walking with my head down and as soon as I saw those flames, I just went running," Cocrane said.
Without hesitation, he burst through the house's back door to try and see if he could help anyone escape. He was able to reach three people, Daniel Yates and Scott Freer, both residents of the house and former Longwood University students, and Great Falls resident and current Longwood student Suzanne Fulton, who was visiting with friends in the house at the time. He helped them escape the fire through windows.
As a result, the math major and former high school varsity athlete suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hands, feet and face. Cocrane would later spend the majority of the week in the hospital for his injuries, before being released on Thursday.
But when the fire was brought under control, more tragic news was made known. Two of Cocrane's close friends, Longwood senior Ed Cunningham and visiting friend Byron Jamerson, were found dead in the remains of the home.
Cocrane returned to Herndon from Farmville last weekend after attending a memorial service for his two fallen friends.
"I'VE TOLD EVERYONE that these flesh wounds will heal, and [the scars are] something that I'll have for the rest of my life," Cocrane said. "But I would have rather had my fingers burned off if it would have meant that we didn't lose the lives of those two people."
As a result of Tim's actions to alert those sleeping in the house of the fire, he has become a local media figure in Farmville, with several news outlets labeling him a hero, according to news accounts and officials of Longwood University. But his deeds are something that Cocrane said he prefers be played down.
"I want people to know that it's not about me being a hero as much as it's about celebrating the lives of the two great people I knew," he said. "I just want to get the point out to everyone that they were great people."
Either way, Longwood University is picking up the rest of Cocrane's college tuition if and when Cocrane decides to return to school.
"It's amazing, I think Dr. [Patricia] Cormier [the University president] ... even said that we don't use the term hero lightly, but what he did was heroic, he charged into a burning building to save his friends," said Dennis Sercombe, associate vice president for marketing and communications for Longwood University. "He's just a very impressive young man."
Happy to save the lives of the three people he helped escape from the burning house that morning, Cocrane said that what he did should be considered second nature and a duty.
"I'm not saying that I'm not very much appreciative of what everyone has done," he said. "It's just something that I had to do and there have been a lot of thank yous."
COCRANE'S SHUNNING of the title of hero isn't surprising to Westfield High School soccer coach and social studies teacher Lon Pringle, who knew Cocrane from the time he spent teaching at Oakton High School.
"The person who does something without thinking because that's what needs to be done, that's Tim," said Pringle. "He's never worried about what's in it for me ... he's the quintessential team player."
The type of dedication and commitment that Cocrane showed as a varsity soccer player at Oakton High School are what was reflected in his actions in Farmville, said Oakton physical education teacher T.J. White.
"He gave a great effort at every practice and every game, he was the kind of kid you could depend on," said White, who coached Cocrane for two years. "I think he just showed that in another situation here," when he ran into a burning house to save his friends.
Regardless of how people may label him, for now, Cocrane said that he just wants to reflect on the life-changing experience and mourn the loss of his two close friends.
"To lose two people like I did shows me ... that life is fragile and in an instant it can be taken away," he said. "That can't be given back and it really just makes you appreciate the little things in life."