ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - Earl Melchert wasn't supposed to be home that Tuesday afternoon.
Melchert, an employee of Elbow Lake Co-op Grain, had been working near his home near Barrett and made a last-minute decision to pick something up from his house.
It was that decision that would change the course of numerous lives - especially the life of a 15-year-old girl named Jasmine Block. Police say she had been had been abducted and held against her will by three men for nearly one month before escaping the afternoon of Sept. 5.
"I would have been there (at home) about a minute," Melchert said. "But I happened to look out and I saw a speck. Eventually she got close to me and I said, 'Oh my gosh, it's a woman.' Then pretty soon I said, 'No, it's a young girl.' I knew it was her as soon as I saw her face."
Melchert got Block into his truck and immediately called 911. Jasmine had fled from a foreclosed home on Thompson Lake, swimming part of the lake to escape and find Melchert.
"I was in the right place at the right time," he said. "I did what I had to do."
It was for this reason that Melchert was chosen as the recipient of a $7,000 reward for Jasmine's safe return after she disappeared from her Alexandria home on Aug. 8. Jasmine's family offered $2,000 of the reward money while $5,000 came from an anonymous donor.
However, at a gathering at the Alexandria Police Department on Friday, Oct. 6, Melchert turned down the reward and instead gave the money to Jasmine.
"The reward money means absolutely nothing to me," said Melchert as he addressed Jasmine and her mother, Sarah. "I want to present this money to you and Jasmine. You guys deserve it."
Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels also spoke, praising the community for spreading Jasmine's story quickly and widely. She was found about 20 miles from her home.
"You ran into one awesome individual in Earl Melchert," Wyffels said to Jasmine. "His heart and compassion were instantly in your world. Because of the promotion of your story, your mother's efforts, your family's efforts, the community's efforts, that story was out there, Jasmine. It was out there so much that when Earl saw you, he knew who you were."
For Sarah, it was the first time she had met Melchert. She thanked him and the Alexandria Police Department.
"You guys will forever hold a place in our hearts," she said.
Of Melchert, she added that she and her family view him as a hero.
"I've been waiting to meet him," she said. "He's really a hero for us. We wanted to thank him ... He didn't have to help her and he did. He risked a lot of things and put himself in danger."
While Jasmine was with Melchert, she spotted a car driven by one of the three men now charged in the case, leading to their arrests the same day she was found.
Sarah says Jasmine's life is slowly returning to normal, though the effects of the ordeal will always be with her.
"Jasmine is in school and they're adding more classes," Sarah said. "She has her therapy dog and is playing with her friends again. Things are looking up."
Wyffels says that the sense of community in this area played a large role in the ultimately happy ending to this story.
"In our community, the lines don't stop at city limits and county lines," Wyffels said. "If we all treat each other like what happened in this room, I think we're going to have a better place."