Any break-in at a school is typically a huge security issue. Maybe it’s a very serious crime or possibly a prank gone too far, but this time it was different. Police in Western New York are calling one man who broke into a school a life-saver.

The winter storm that blanketed Buffalo and WNY over Christmas claimed at least 40 lives, but that number could have been much higher. The incredible story of ‘Christmas Angel’ Jay Withey started with a phone call for help.

Security camera footage of Jay Withey
Cheektowaga Police

27-year-old Withey got a call from a friend at 6p on the Friday the blizzard struck that he was stuck in the snow. Jay, already proving himself friend of the century, set out in his truck to find him. With abandoned vehicles were piling up with feet of snow in the streets, Jay picked up a walker as temperatures plunged to single digits.

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Even in his truck, Withey was no match for the snow and soon became stuck, himself. In near whiteout conditions, he walked to nearby houses and offered $500 to anyone who would let him and the man he picked up sleep on their floor. He told them he was, justifiably, in fear for his life. Nobody would let him stay.

A stranded car in the Buffalo blizzard
Getty Images

With only a quarter-tank of gas left, Jay let a stranded, elderly woman into his truck. The trio tried to stay warm through the night until the truck ran out of gas on Christmas Eve morning. Knowing he had no other option to keep himself or the other two strangers alive, Withey took a spare brake pad and smashed the window of the nearby Edge Academy.

The school’s alarm blared. Jay climbed through the broken window and opened the school’s front door, letting the older woman and the young man into the heated building. While some would have stayed inside and enjoyed the warmth, Withey went back out into the blizzard and started collecting other people stranded in cars.

People seeking shelter from the Christmas blizzard in Western New York.
Cheektowaga Police

By Christmas Day, 24 people and 2 dogs were seeking shelter inside the school because of Jay. They slept on gym mats and used blankets from the nurse’s office. They ate snacks from the cafeteria for meals. Meanwhile, Jay used the school’s snow-blower to free all the cars that were trapped.

At 8p, Withey finally got into his truck and went home after everyone else has left. He left behind a simple note explaining the busted window and the alarm. When Cheektowaga Police finally reached the school, they found the note and the incredible surveillance footage of what happened.

A note left by Jay Withey, who broke into a New York school during the Christmas blizzard.
Cheektowaga Police

Officers found Withey, not to press charges, but to call him a hero and acknowledge that he “one-hundred-percent saved lives.” Some of those that Jay rescued came to the ceremony, and they’re now planning another celebration – in warmer weather.

To tie up loose ends: Withey's friend was saved by rescue crews and is also fine.

The Aftermath Of Winter Storm Elliot In Buffalo and WNY

A Bomb Cyclone powered by Arctic air dumped more than four feet of snow on Western New York just before Christmas. Thousands were left without power and at least thirty have been confirmed dead in Buffalo. Homes along Lake Erie received the worst of the winter, with many frozen solid.

Despite a travel ban, residents left their homes in days after for groceries and to begin cleanup. State Troopers and military police have been trying to enforce the law as much as possible. Cleanup crews have been trying to clear as much of the snow as possible and dump it into Lake Erie, but the number of abandoned cars in streets and parking lots has slowed progress.

There's currently no monetary estimate of damage to the region.

Gallery Credit: Cameron Coats

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