Questions arise about USC cornerback Josh Shaw’s heroics

USC says it regrets posting a report online about cornerback Josh Shaw that said he sprained both ankles while rescuing his 7-year-old nephew from a swimming pool after the senior admitted making up the entire story.

It was only two days ago that USC and much of the local media portrayed Josh Shaw as a hero.

The college football player was credited with leaping from a second-floor balcony and, despite two injured ankles, crawling to rescue his young nephew from a pool.

Now, the story has turned murky amid growing doubts about what really happened.

USC Coach Steve Sarkisian announced Tuesday that the university had launched an investigation based on calls from several people who contradicted the athlete’s account.


“We’re going to continue to vet it and we’re looking at it,” Sarkisian said.

The situation grew even more confusing when police disclosed that Saturday night — when Shaw said he was at a family function in Palmdale — his name popped up in relation to an incident at a downtown Los Angeles apartment complex.

The player did not practice with his team Tuesday and, despite an earlier promise from the university, did not meet with reporters.

“I only know what I know,” Sarkisian said. “And Josh is adamant with what occurred.”

Shaw is a senior cornerback with no known history of legal or academic problems. Just last weekend, his teammates voted him one of six team captains.

USC first learned of his story — and injuries — on Sunday, said Tim Tessalone, an athletic department spokesman. A subsequent post on the team’s website gave this account:

Shaw was named a team captain at a Salute to Troy dinner for boosters on campus Saturday evening. Later that night with family in Palmdale, Shaw spotted his 7-year-old nephew, who cannot swim, in the pool below. After jumping down to the concrete deck, the injured athlete dragged himself into the water and pulled the boy to safety.

The post included statements from Shaw, who said: “I would do it again for whatever kid it was, it did not have to be my nephew.” Sarkisian was quoted as saying: “That was a heroic act by Josh, putting his personal safety aside.”

The university said it took initial steps to verify the story. “We felt it was solid,” Tessalone said.

Media outlets immediately responded with reports of Shaw’s courageous act and the story went viral on social media.

By Tuesday, school officials were huddled in the McKay Center as rumors swirled on social media and police added another twist.

At 10 p.m. Saturday night, officers went to the Orsini Apartments on North Figueroa Street to check on a report of a woman’s screams from a third-floor unit, police said. No one answered the door, so the officers forced entry. No one was inside.

A neighbor reported seeing a man run across or scale a balcony, and gave a general description of the individual.

Later, as officers interviewed a woman resident of the complex, they told her what the one witness had seen. She responded, “Sounds like my boyfriend, Josh Shaw,” according to Lt. Andrew Neiman, an LAPD spokesman. The woman also told the officers Shaw was at dinner with friends, Neiman said.

A man at the front desk of the Orsini Apartments on Tuesday afternoon said Shaw was not a registered resident. The LAPD did not identify the woman in the incident report.

After the Trojans practiced Tuesday, entering final preparations for their season opener against Fresno State on Saturday, camera crews from sports, news and entertainment television shows crowded around Sarkisian.

“He’s a good kid,” the coach said of Shaw. “I have no reason, no history, to not believe Josh and his story.”

But Sarkisian stopped short of saying the story was true or false. And he declined to identify the callers who questioned Shaw’s account.

The player’s sister subsequently came to his defense in interviews with Channel 7 news and USA Today. However, she said she was not present at the family function.

Times staff writers Richard Winton and Gale Holland and correspondent Lindsey Thiry contributed to this report.