A retired Hartford police officer recently attended the graduation of a girl he once helped rescue.
Retired Det. Peter Getz was one of many who rescued a young girl from a Washington Street fire in 1998.
"There are certain events that change you forever," he told Eyewitness News.
The fire wreaked havoc on the life of then 5-year-old Josi Aponte, who said she still deals with physical and mental scars.
"I think the greatest struggle was accepting that I was different because growing up knowing your different is hard," Aponte said.
Aponte said she lost a cousin that day and came within seconds of dying herself, had it not been for Getz.
In a social media post on Wednesday, Getz was photographed attending the now-grown-up Aponte's graduation from Eastern Connecticut State University on Tuesday.
"He saved me and he's just walking out with me in his arms and I'm so grateful for him because we always call him my guardian angel," Aponte said.
Getz and retired Sgt. Donnie Camp were credited with aiding the rescue of the girl, as depicted in a past "Throwback Thursday" post on the Hartford Police Department's Facebook page.
"I am honored and humbled to be depicted here on TBT," Getz wrote in a comment last year. "I take my hat off to the brave and heroic members of the Hartford Fire Department, that entered the active fire, located Josie and brought her out. Thank You."
Aponte said she always wondered about the man in the photograph, her so-called guardian angel. After a firefighter pulled her from the burning apartment, the mystery officer carried her tiny body to his squad car and performed CPR before taking her to the hospital.
"I was never gonna be the same again," Aponte said. "But I got another chance to live. I got a second chance."
In 2014, after years of wondering, Aponte said she looked her hero up on Facebook and sent him an email.
"I was like blown away," Getz said. "It's amazing to have her reach out and say 'I'm here.'"
Getz, who retired after two decades of service with the department, said he was touched by the note and emailed Aponte his number and asked her to call.
"I was like 'oh my God! I'm gonna here his voice!'" Aponte said. "It was just so shocking. I was so happy."
Aponte said she and Getz became close and often meet for lunch. Their friendship blossomed even more on Tuesday when she graduated from ECSU with an accounting degree.
Getz said he wasn't going to miss it.
"To be sitting there with the family and to be addressed as part of the family was an honor it really was," he said.
"I was looking through the crowd for my family and of course he was the very tall American one surrounded by a whole Hispanic crew," Aponte said.
After 18 years, a lot has changed. But during tow life changing events, one thing remained the same.
"He was just there and that's what matters," Aponte said.
The Hartford Police Department also congratulated her on her success.
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