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‘Lit a fire under me:’ Idaho woman shares touching reunion with officer who saved her life

NAMPA, Idaho — It’s not often police officers are showered in appreciation, but an Idaho woman wanted to make sure an officer knew just how much he impacted her life.

It was a moment Airia Howe had been looking forward to for years.

“It’s good to see her back to normal,” said Officer Heath Otto. “I mean, life in her face.”

“I reached out to my family in the wrong ways,” said Howe. “I scared everybody away from me, and you know, Officer Otto was — yes, he was a police officer — but he knew who I once was.”

Howe first met Officer Otto years ago, while working at a Subway sandwich shop near the station.

“Right when I first started at Nampa PD, I went in the Subway, saw her, and we were just chatting and whatever else,” Otto said.

In the years to follow, addiction took hold of Howe’s life.

“I just did drugs,” said Howe. “Whatever was in front of me, I would take, you know?”

This led to what Howe described as two drug-fueled mental health crises.

“She was obviously in crisis,” said Otto. “She wasn’t speaking coherently. Sentence forming wasn’t really there. Obviously, if she wasn’t able to take care of herself, she’s not going to be able to take care of her daughter. So I ensured that her daughter was in a safe spot, had another officer stay with her daughter, as I contacted her mom. Her mom came down from Mountain Home to take care of her daughter, and then her and I went to the hospital so she could receive the help that she needed, so she could be safe.”

Howe said he treated her like a human, not a criminal — showing care and empathy toward her.

“Just him and his eyes right there, that was just so comforting to me,” Howe said. “His soul could feel for me. Maybe I made good sandwiches or something.”

Howe said she completed 40 days of treatment at Intermountain Recovery Hospital.

“It just lit a fire under me,” said Howe. “I’ve been trying to keep strong, and not make poor choices, not let people in my life. I don’t need them — but just be there for my daughter.”

Howe said it had been three years since she used hard drugs.

“For her to be able to break the cycle, and be willing to work a program and realize that, ‘Hey, I need to go a different path with my life for her,’ for her daughter and everything else. That’s massive,” Otto said.

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