A North Carolina father drowned Sunday while rescuing two of his young children who were swept away by a wave while walking on a submerged jetty at Wrightsville Beach.
Johnny Lee Vann Jr., a 35-year-old father who recently moved to Durham from Detroit, Mich., with his family, did not hesitate to jump into the rough waters after watching two of his seven children go under, his widow, Dawn Vann, told WNCN.
"He threw everything down — phone, keys — and ran out there," she recalled. "He got to both of them, he grabbed them."
Vann Jr. successfully brought one child to shore but struggled to stay afloat after heading back out for the second, Capt. Jason Bishop of the Wrightsville Beach Police Department told ABC News.
Both the father and second child were recovered after spending about 30 seconds underwater, and while the child survived, rescuers were unable to resuscitate Vann Jr., who died on the scene.
His widow told WWAY-TV that she and her children are reeling from the sudden loss.
"You couldn't ask for a better person, you could have [taken] anybody else," Dawn told the station. "I would've preferred to take me than him."
A GoFundMe page to help the family cover relocation expenses, potential grief counseling and the cost of flying Vann Jr.'s body to Detroit for his burial has already raised more than $28,000, smashing its $25,000 goal.
"Johnny was known to his family and friends as a pillar of jovial spirit," the page states. "His smile could light up any room and was guaranteed to put a smile on your face. His family recently moved to North Carolina to secure a better quality of life and was excited for the start of a new chapter. He leaves to cherish his loving wife, his seven children, three brothers, father, and sister."
"Our family is extremely grateful for any financial support and words of encouragement," the fundraiser adds.
- This article was initially published on AOL.com: North Carolina father of 7 dies trying to save his drowning children at beach