LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Justin Cox

Position: Head Custodian
School: Paradise Elementary School
School District: Paradise Unified School District
City, State: Oroville, CA

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Justin Cox was nominated by his colleague, Brian Edwards.

During last year's devastating wildfire in Northern California, Mr. Cox stayed behind to direct parents and students out of school when mandatory pick-up was advised for parents and students were in danger. He was getting calls as he was directing families out of the chaos of pick up and out of the approaching fire. Mr. Cox was getting calls that the now-empty school roof was catching on fire from embers. He maintained composure despite the burning surroundings to see the students to safety.

When this was going on, he was worried about his wife and two year old kid, who were stuck in the fire until his sister in-law picked them up from danger. Mr. Cox stood fast to make sure his students were safe, despite not knowing how his family was doing.

"In my opinion, he is heroic," said Edwards. "He stood his ground with the goal of getting those kids to safety. This guy deserves recognition for the courage he displayed under such grim circumstances."



Comments (41)


Lindsay Nugent Posted 5 months ago

I worked with Justin and he was a great employee and even better friend. He truly deserves this

Beth Robinson Posted 5 months ago

My granddaughter was a student there that day, Thank you for being one of those kind of people that day. Thank you again !

Tiffani Pullyblank Posted 5 months ago

I don’t know Justin and I don’t have a connection to that particular school, but the way he risked his life to make sure everyone got out alive is nothing short of heroic. To make sure there weren’t any scared kids hiding somewhere, or any staff left behind — putting the safety of others ahead of his own — is admirable and award worthy, to say the very least.

Pam Funk Posted 5 months ago

Justin represents the kind of people that we can only hope work with our kids. He proved that he would risk his life to keep our kids safe.

Diane Pajouh Posted 5 months ago

Thank you Justin for your bravery and very good heart. While I do not have children at the elementary school, I do live close and thank you for saving our neighborhood children. They do not come any better than you!

Katey Posted 5 months ago

Thank you for staying? We watched the school burn.(stuck in traffic), but knew the children were down the hill thanks to you and the amazing staff?

Cheryl Glasser Posted 5 months ago

I am a retired teacher from SoCal and owned The Children's Discovery Playhouse in Paradise, CA, which is/was an indoor themed play facility. Although I don't know Mr. Cox personally, I know what an incredible feat it is to maintain calm in young children who are scared. It is truly miraculous that every child got off the Ridge safely in a fire that was burning at a rate of 1.5 football fields a second! Hundreds of people showed compassion that day by picking up strangers who had abandoned their burnt vehicles, but the selfless act of this hero deserves the recognition this award is meant for. Thank you Mr. Cox for saving the children of Paradise!

Kelly White Posted 5 months ago

I work at Ponderosa Elementary School and know Justin. He is all that everyone says he is. I do believe he deserves this award. I am also so very grateful to know he is still with us all.

Mary Ghaemian Posted 5 months ago

I'm glad you made it out Justin I'm glad to see the you're still working for the school district well let's just say I'm glad to see you're still working I was hoping you'd come by bird street to see your team were in full support of you, good job thank you good things will come your way. Also, thank you for my mask that day.

Melissa Andersen Posted 5 months ago

What an amazingly giving act of humanity in the course of true tragedy! God bless YOU and your family as well as ALL THE CHILDREN YOU SAVED THAT FATEFUL DAY! Justin is the True embodiment of A Hero in my opinion! Blessings be with you!

Tomilee Posted 5 months ago

This is awesome! Thank you for being so caring!

Rae Jean goodwin Posted 5 months ago

He was awesome

Megan Posted 5 months ago

Justin was hands down amazing to all of our kids at paradise elementary. He deserves this award for his bravery as it could have been a lot more devastating if not for his actions he took that day.

April Taylor Posted 5 months ago

If Justin hadn't have given me the back road directions to my house from the school I'm not sure what might have happened but because of those directions and his insistence for me to leave right then I made it in time to see all lives out before we ran from our home. He is apart of my story as he is apart of manys story and he truly deserves to be recognized. Justin you ROCK!!!!

Linda Stratton Posted 5 months ago

This is an amazing story of how one person can make a difference! I’m sure all the student’s parents were so thankful that Justin helped their little ones get out safely. Even though my kids no longer attend PES, I want to thank him for being a hero! That day was so scary and the kids were lucky to have someone like Justin.

Sami Schrum Posted 5 months ago

I stayed behind that day with the last group of teachers and staff at paradise elementary. When sheriffs came in and told us to leave and take the kids we had with us, I remember looking back over my shoulder and seeing Justin checking rooms and locking doors. He was very brave that day. He definitely deserves this award.

Misty Posted 5 months ago

Someone with this kind of heart, courage and selflessness, deserves all the praise we can give! We should all be this kind of person!

Cassie Davis Posted 5 months ago

Heart warming to hear this story of courage, my son went to that school. The morning of the fire I drove him to school but decided to take him home with me as ashes were already falling on the school. Glad to know someone was there making sure every child got out safely!

Stacey Akin Posted 5 months ago

You're a true hero! As a member of our community and having children that once attended this school, I can tell you that those parents appreciate you and your dedication and fearless determination to make sure every student was out of harms way. Thank you!

Amy Posted 5 months ago

I am a PUSD parent. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that Justin, and other PUSD staff, put their students first. The heroism he demonstrated is definitely deserving of this award!! Thank you Justin!!!

Nancy Ellison Posted 5 months ago

Unless you have seen videos taken of the survivors of this devastating fire, you cannot imagine the hellish nightmare that the community was faced with. I am a mother with a child in the school across the street from Justin Cox. I was unable to get back into town to rescue my child. The panic, fear and great unknown threw me into complete despair. For any man to stand alone, in this burning inferno, surrounded by flames, listening to the sounds of propane tanks exploding, screams of people stuck in traffic wondering if they were going to perish in the flames, undoubtedly worried about his own family, that man has my love and respect. Scared children could depend on him on what is going to likely be the worst day of their lives. Mothers and fathers can thank him for being there when they could not. I appreciate what he has done for the people of our community. I cannot imagine being the last one out, the last man standing in that burning inferno, that hell on earth.

Teresa Klink Posted 5 months ago

Thank you for keeping our children safe!!!

Laura Greenwell Posted 5 months ago

November 8th, 2018. It is an incredible service, to try to assist and help people to safety.*** It is an amazing gesture of unselfish acts, to stay behind during a tragedy, and help young children! They're afraid, alone without their parents. They do not know how to run from fire. They do not have the ability to get into a vehicle and try to drive out. They are at the mercy at the adults around them. There were so very many 'heroes' on that fateful day, and to recognize them all, would be nearly impossible. Since Justin has been nominated, I would like to cast a vote in his favor. Not only did he risk his life in staying behind and making sure that all of the children were out of the school, he also saved hundreds of parents from despair. To be the reason that a parent is reunited with a child after a catastrophic event, is a gift without a price tag. There is not one family that had to endure the loss of a child, and for this, Justin should be recognized. Thank you.

Jesica Giannola Posted 5 months ago

Dear justin, That day will always be seared into our memories, and the fear and terror felt by all is just immeasurable. For you to have the courage to stay behind at an elementary school and not only help children and staff escape, but to be the last man standing after double checking multiple times speaks of your heart and selfless actions. You set aside fears of your own home and family and did not abandon one soul that the fire tried to claim that fateful day. You will forever be my hero, and every child and their families at your school will forever hold you dear. Without heroes like you so many more innocent lives would have been lost. Thank you a million times over ?

Kimberly Neitz Posted 5 months ago

That is courageous and selfless. You would like to think that anyone in Justin's shoes would do the same, but the simple truth is that not everyone does the right thing. Not everyone puts others first, especially in a time of danger. It's so important to recognize people that do amazing things like this, because they are the best example of what humanity has to offer.

Connie Graham Posted 5 months ago

Thank you for your service.

Autumn Brock Posted 5 months ago

Such a heroic effort on behalf of this human! Justin deserves to win this!

Riley Posted 5 months ago

Amazing story! This man deserves it ! True bravery

Sabrina Posted 5 months ago

Justin rules!!! He's taught me a lot in custodial and I thank him for the knowledge I have. He is an amazing dad and husband. I'm glad to say he is a friend and college for over a decade.

Hilary Ervin Posted 5 months ago

I'm a third generation Paradise family as well as a 20 year teacher for Paradise Unified - what we all endured on Nov 8th was horrific - we are all so proud not ONE STUDENT from Paradise Unified was lost in this tragedy ??it's people like Justin, who worked tirelessly and selflessly to put all others first - he deserves this award, and so much more! Thank you Justin - for being a true hero of PES!

Jamie Gagon Posted 5 months ago

I have known Justin for many years. He is a very compassionate and humble human being. Hearing of his actions on that fateful day was no surprise, he has always put others above himself and truly deserves this recognition.

Jo Ann Russell Posted 5 months ago

I ave known Justin for several years and I was not surprised to hear of his staying behind to see students safely rescued. He has always been a man of high integrity and honor. I see many great acts of bravery and sacrifice in his future. In many areas of his life he is quite a remarkable young man and certainly deserves this honor.

Mary Ficcardi Posted 5 months ago

Justin is an amazing person, husband, dad and friend. His work ethic is strong and he always does what is right. It is not surprising that he made sure all the students in his care were safe. Justin is a person that you take great pride in knowing! Justin is truly deserving of this award!

Susan Gunzel Posted 5 months ago

Justin epitomizes what dedication to one’s career is all about. Putting his life on the line in order to save others is a heroic act. Thank God for people like Justin. As an elementary teacher, I know first hand how dedicated our custodians are. Thank you Justin, well done!

Carly Santa Posted 5 months ago

As the sister-in-law that was mentioned above, I can say I’m incredibly proud to call Justin my brother-in-law for what he did on November 8th. I can’t imagine the stress he was under worrying about the safety of his wife and his daughter, plus that of the lives of each child he was determined to bring to safety. This town and that school are very fortunate to have a man like Justin dedicate himself to his community like he did that day.

Eileen Mosley Posted 6 months ago

Justin is my nephew - he is very dedicated to his school, students and staff. He stayed to make sure everyone safely left Paradise Elementary, even though he was worried about his own family as the Camp Fire rages toward him.

Claire Cox Posted 6 months ago

This is my oldest child. He has repeatedly put the children first throughout his career. Most people look down upon the custodial staff, they don't take the time to realize this group of hard working individuals are the back bone that get things done for the children's safety and well being everyday. On that day not only did he stay and check every room to make sure no one was left behind, he gave directions to a new staff member on how she could take side roads to get home and rescue her own children. If he hadn't assisted her she may have lost her family too. Justin stayed until an officer told him he had to leave. Justin not only changed lives, HE SAVED THEM.

Ronald Cox Posted 6 months ago

Justin is my son & has always shown a great work ethic, he has proven to be brave in the face of danger, & dedicated to the job at hand.

Dayla Ruhl Posted 6 months ago

I have two boys that went to PES. 4th and 2nd grade. My boys loved Justin. Rylan my 2nd grader especially. He was always so kind, and helpful. My older boy who’s in a wheelchair loved that Justin would make sure people wouldn’t park in his spot to ensure my son had a safe way to enter school. We saw him every morning while I was unloading my son and he created us with welcoming smiles. We saw him every afternoon while loading my sons chair my more often then not my 2nd grader would call out to Justin just to say hi and bye...again lol. Justin was more then a hero that day. He was a hero every day, doing a job that most look down on. He is an amazing guy that helped make PES what it was. I hope we get to see him next fall when the kids go back to their home town for school.

Kayla Cox Posted 6 months ago

My name is Kayla Cox and I am the wife of Justin. He truly is a hero although he would never tell you that himself. He sees what he did as just what was right. What he doesn't see is how much he did to save the lives of children and families. He was the very last person to leave that elementary school. He checked every room 3 times to be sure no kid had gotten scared and tried to hide. He was out in the street, stopping traffic to get cars with kids out of the parking lot. The day of the fire was insanity. Everything burning and the sky so dark it looked like midnight. When I finally got ahold of him to tell him my sister had picked us up, he told me he had to stay and make sure those children made it out. He put the last 2 children in his principles car and checked the campus one last time. The last thing I heard for 2 hours was he didn't think he was going to make it out and that he would try to hide in a big freezer next door. Hearing that was terrifying. I was driving through fire and was sure he wouldn't make it out. He put the lives of those families and children ahead if his own. Knowing there was a good chance that meant it could be the end of his own. The fact that he doesn't see it as heroic just solidifies the kind of man he is in my mind. The kind of dad to our little girl. That night when we watched his school burn on the news it hit home how close we were to losing him and ourselves to the fire that changed our lives. I could not be prouder of him. This is why I truly believe he deserves this award. Thank you.

Marilyn Shanahan-loder Posted 6 months ago

As a survivor myself of the Camp fire, it is my pleasure to make comments on Justin and his determination to make sure the kids were safe. With the fire rushing and the winds blowing over 100 miles per hour, things were moving at record speed yet his dedication to those children is outstanding. Pretty amazing considering his wife and daughter were home without a vehicle. He truly deserves an award as Life chsnger of the year.