An Illinois father, believed to have lost his life while trying to save his 6-year-old son from drowning, was pictured doing what he loved most just before tragedy struck — fishing and spending time with family.
In the picture taken at sunset Tuesday, Malik Williams can be seen sitting on a green bucket as he fishes in the Mississippi River at Ben Butterworth Park in Moline, his little boy to his left looking at the camera.
The heartwarming image was captured by Riley Gomez, a 16-year-old passerby who was touched by the picturesque moment.
“I was on the dock taking pictures of the sunset and I saw them,” she said of Williams and his son.
But that fun family-filled day took a tragic turn when Williams’ son fell into the water, officials said.
“When I was going home, I turned around to see the sunset one last time and the little boy wasn’t on the dock anymore,” Gomez said. “Then I saw his father jump in.”
Williams, 25, didn't know how to swim, but that was not about to stop him from rescuing his little boy.
“Malik's first instinct was to save his baby, so he jumped in not knowing how to swim trying to do everything he could to save Jaden,” a GoFundMe page created to help the family noted.
Quickly realizing the desperate situation at hand, his fiancée and the mother of his children began screaming for help, Gomez said.
“She was yelling, ‘Help me, help me! They can’t swim! They can’t swim!'" Gomez recalled.
She and another passerby, identified by authorities as Von Thang, jumped into the water and Thang was able to bring the boy to safety, but the current pulled Williams out of reach.
“I tried everything... I keep having dreams that I actually did save [Williams],” Gomez said. “It still seems unreal to me.”
Emergency responders searched the river, but were unable to find Williams’ body. Officials on Wednesday suspended their recovery efforts.
Loved ones had held out hope for good news, but their prayers of hope tragically became prayers for peace as they came to grips with Williams’ death.
“I'm angry, heartbroken and in a state of confusion,” one friend wrote on Facebook. “It's not fair! We prayed, we begged, we wanted this all to be an awful dream [and] have Malik walk through their front door with that huge smile on his face.”
He leaves behind his 6-year-old son, a 2-week-old son and his high school sweetheart.
Left with just the memory of their beloved father and son, Williams’ family considered Gomez's photo to be a gift.
“He seemed like an amazing father — he knew he couldn’t swim and he sacrificed his life to save his child. He’ll always be remembered as a hero,” Gomez said. “Knowing that there was one last thing I was able to give to that family, I’m really glad I did take that picture.”