Gone viral: Anchorage teen who caught falling baby finds out how fast the Internet can bring fame

Michelle Theriault Boots
Bill Roth

Christopher Strickland's unlikely rise to Internet fame started last Thursday, when he caught a baby girl as she tumbled out of a shopping cart at the South Anchorage Home Depot.

The 19-year-old, who has lived in Anchorage all his life, graduated from Grace Christian School in the spring. He is fond of playing video and computer games and has only been working at Home Depot, his first job, for three months.

As a "pro-lot loader," his job is to help contractors haul items such as concrete mix and reams of insulation out to their pickup trucks.

Last Thursday, Strickland was hanging around the cashier area waiting for a customer when he noticed a baby loose in a car seat, balanced atop an orange shopping cart. The arrangement looked precarious.

"I thought I'd keep an eye on it, in case something happened," he recalled Wednesday.

The baby began to tip out of the car seat. Strickland darted toward the cart and caught the baby in midair, moments before infant's head would have hit the concrete floor. He cradled it gracefully, as if he'd been catching falling babies his entire life.

(In fact, Strickland said, he had only held a baby a couple times before.)

Strickland handed the child to the father, who had been distracted at the cash register.

The man thanked him again and again. Then he was gone.

That would have been the end of it, except the nine-second encounter was captured on Home Depot surveillance video.

Someone -- no one is willing to say exactly who -- put the footage on the Internet.

The video ended up on the Facebook page of Strickland's church, Jewel Lake Community Church.

Then, on Sunday, Strickland's brother, Dale, put it on YouTube, titling it "Chris to the rescue," and adding the straightforward description "my brother saving a baby falling off a cart at home depot" below.

The video had viral written all over it. It was nine seconds long. It involved a queasy moment, where the baby is sailing through mid-air, and a quick and happy conclusion. And it offered an obvious hero: Christopher Strickland.

The Internet hive mind took it from there.

On Monday and Tuesday the video started dancing around the corners of the Web that turn up a video clip of a bear sneezing or a teenager saving a baby into a sensation.

It do-si-do-ed all over Facebook. It skipped around Reddit.

The video ended up on LiveLeak, where it has been viewed 310,658 times.

On YouTube, the video reached 50,000 views in a matter of hours.

On Wednesday, it was growing by the thousands every hour: from 58,000 to 80,000 to 90,000 during the afternoon alone.

Strickland started showing up in headlines:

"Watch incredible moment heroic worker catches falling BABY in hardware store," trumpeted the British tabloid The Daily Mirror.

"Store worker casually saves baby," said the site Ninemsn.

It showed up on the Huffington Post, the New York Daily News, Australian newspapers and Mashable, which charted its rise with a "velocity graph."

On Wednesday, Strickland arrived to work to find that the store's human resources manager-turned-media handler Cheryl Edmond had news for him.

CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS a Korean television outlet and some kind of international talk show had called, she said.

By Wednesday afternoon, Edmond was running a well-oiled media machine.

"Everything is being routed through Atlanta," where Home Depot's corporate headquarters are located, she said. "They're filtering for us."

Edmond and Strickland stood in the snow as a television cameraman shot footage of the two, clad in orange Home Depot vests.

Strickland didn't have much to say about his moment of fame, but he wore a bemused expression.

He had been doing television interviews for two-and-a-half hours. Wednesday would mark the first time he'd been on TV since appearing in a "half-second" bit about H20asis, when he was six.

He said he didn't have any feelings one way or another about suddenly being blanketed with media attention and called a hero.

"No, not really," he said with a shrug. "I don't care either way."

It was just reflexes, he said, that helped him catch the baby.

Store manager Brady Wilson disagreed.

"It was his character," he said.

"He literally saved her life," Edmond added.

Strickland is being recognized by his employer for the act.

He has been nominated for an "Angel Award," for acts of heroism in the store, said Home Depot corporate spokeswoman Catherine Woodling.

One thing about the hullabaloo was kind of cool, Strickland allowed: His parents were proud.

Soon it was time to go. The South Anchorage Home Depot's most famous pro-lot loader needed to get back to work.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.