Heroic father dies trying to save his children who were swept away by wave at North Carolina beach
35-year-old Johnny Lee Vann Jr was able to rescue one of his children but failed to resurface after he went back to save the second
Johnny Lee Vann Jr., a North Carolina father, lost his life on Sunday, July 14, while trying to rescue two of his seven children from rough waters at the Wrightsville Beach near Wilmington.
The incident happened when two of Johnny's children were on a jetty wall when they were swept away by the wave, according to a Daily Mail report.
The 35-year-old father was able to rescue one of his children but failed to resurface after he went back to save the second, Capt. Jason Bishop of the Wrightsville Beach Police Department told ABC News.
Vann was underwater for about 30 seconds before first responders rescued him and the other child. However, Vann could not be resuscitated.
"We came from church and we went to the beach to have fun. We wound up having a tragedy. You couldn't ask for a better person," Johnny's wife Dawn Vann told WWAY. "You could have taken anybody else," she said. "I would've preferred to take me than him."
"He never hesitated," she continued, speaking of her husband's bravery. "He threw everything down – phone keys and ran out there."
While he could have easily been saved, Johnny's only concern was for the safety of his children. "They could've easily saved him, he said, 'Forget about me. Get my kids!' He didn't care about nothing else," Vann recalled.
Andre Nel, a fishing captain, who witnessed the tragedy said: "I saw an African American gentleman sprinting towards the beach. And he dove into the water and went straight for the kid that was in the water. There needs to be a lifeguard station right here," Nel said. "If there was a lifeguard station right here yesterday, this would not have happened."
According to Nel, there are not enough warning signs for the high tide on the jetty, along which the children were walking.
"It was horrible," Nel told WECT. "It was a horrible scene going on here. We had this gentleman lying on the ground and people screaming and this young child that he went to go and save was screaming the whole time, 'That's my daddy!' We had my little daughter and a nephew of hers and I've got the chills right now just thinking of it."
"My dad always tells us, 'You all are going to be together forever,'" said Kierstyn, Vann's daughter, adding, "His spirit is still alive and we're all going to remember him as a hero." Meanwhile, the family has now set up a fundraising page to take care of funeral expenses.