Hancock County's Teen Hero Honored By Court TV

"Today is a special day. We are at Stennis International Airport because this is the location that an unexpected 13-year-old... hero, Billy Cotter, displayed some exceptional bravery," Chris Ozminkowski of Court TV said.

The 7th grade St. Stanislaus student looks like an average teenager, but Court TV and Congressman Gene Taylor say he did some extraordinary things to help his community right after Katrina.

"There was only one phone out of Hancock County," Congressman Taylor remembered. "I called the Pentagon."

Taylor told the Washington officials that immediate help was needed, but they told him all the roads were blocked.

"Yes, but there is a 10,000 foot runway and you need to use. So they asked me to come out here and I ran the runway and there wasn't a leaf on it, so I called the Pentagon back and said, 'You're not going to believe this. This is a freak of nature. There is not a leaf on that 10,000 foot runway. You can start bringing planes in.'"

What Taylor didn't know was it wasn't a freak of nature at all. Thirteen-year-old Billy Cotter had picked up tons of debris from the runway. He moved twisted pieces of airplanes, hangers and trees any way he could.

"I knew there was defiantly going to be planes coming in and I knew they were coming soon, so I just had to get it done," Billy Cotter said.

Cotter drove the runway sweeper through snakes and eels and whatever else Katrina dumped there.

Congressman Taylor couldn't praise Billy enough.

"A 13-year-old kid was out there clearing that runway so we could get all the things needed to save Hancock County and South Mississippi. By Wednesday, he's running a refueling truck, refueling National Guard Helicopters that are landing here. He's 13-years-old."

Cotter's father, Bill Cotter, Sr. is the airport's director. Billy says he learned to use the airport equipment by watching his dad's staff work.

"As a 13-year-old, he could have stayed inside, could have played video games, but he wanted to get out and work," Billy's proud father said.

And when the people from Court TV learned of Billy's efforts, they made this teenager one of their Unexpected Heroes.

Another Mississippian received the award from Court TV. In November, Congressman Taylor presented the family of Sgt. Josh Russell the award.

The National Guardsman from Pearl River County died the night of the storm while trying to rescue his grandparents. Russell was a member of the 890th Engineering Battalion.

It was that night Taylor also told Billy Cotter's story and Court TV decided to honor Cotter as well.

by Al Showers