A North Carolina father of seven drowned trying to save two of his children who were swept into rough waters at the beach, authorities said.
Johnny Lee Vann Jr. was with some of his family at Wrightsville Beach Sunday when he saw his children who were walking on a submerged jetty fall into the water, the Wrightsville Beach Police Department told ABC News.
Vann, 35, sprang into action and dove into the water.
He managed to rescue one of his kids, but as he attempted to save his other child, Vann was pulled under, officials said.
Vann was underwater for about 30 seconds before rescuers pulled him and his child ashore, witnesses told police.
“It was horrible,” Andre Nel, a fishing charter captain who was at the beach with his own family, told WECT-TV. “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!’”
Nel said the jetty at the south end of the beach can become dangerous during high tide.
A jetty is a structure that extends from land out into the water, creating a walkway of sorts.
He said two signs warning of the risks of walking there were destroyed during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and were never replaced.
“There needs to be a lifeguard station right here,” Nel told WWAY-TV. “If there was a lifeguard station right here yesterday, this would not have happened.”
Vann’s widow, Dawn, agreed, saying she wanted to warn people about the potential hazards there.
“Either they need to make it taller or take it out the water completely, because it’s still dangerous,” Dawn told WWAY-TV of the jetty.
Vann was training to become a minister and was a pillar of his family and community, loved ones said.
“You couldn’t ask for a better person, you could have took anybody else,” Dawn said. “I mean me personally, I would’ve preferred to take me than him.”
Vann leaves behind his wife, their seven children, his father, sister and three brothers.
He and his family recently moved to North Carolina “to secure a better quality of life and was excited for the start of a new chapter,” according to a GoFundMe page his family created.
The funds raised will go toward Vann’s funeral and to bring him back to his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, where he will be laid to rest.