A father of seven drowned Sunday afternoon while trying to save his children from rough waters at Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina.
Johnny Lee Vann Jr., 35, ran into the water when he saw two of his children struggling to swim as they were being pushed out to deeper water near a jetty.
“He never hesitated,” his wife, Dawn Vann, said. “He threw everything down — phone keys and ran out there.”
Vann said once her husband reached them, he seemed to be in distress and said he could not breathe.
She commented that others on the beach tried to reach him, but he told them, “Forget about me. Get my kids.”
Reports state that the children made it to the shore safely. However, rescue crews performed CPR on Vann for 45 minutes but were not able to revive him.
“He put his family first. He wouldn’t go without, he put his family first,” his wife said. “He was the best man you could ever imagine to ever have in your life.”
The family, who recently moved to North Carolina from Michigan, had been to church together earlier that morning and decided to spend the afternoon at the nearby beach.
“We came from church and we went to the beach to have fun. We wound up having a tragedy,” Vann’s wife said.
On Monday, the family hugged each other and held photographs of the hero father.
“His spirit is still alive and we’re all going to remember him as a hero,” Vann’s daughter Kierstyn told reporters.
Family members have set up a GoFundMe page to pay for funeral costs. They hope to bury Vann in Detroit, Michigan, next to his mother.
“Johnny was known to his family and friends as a pillar of jovial spirit. His smile could light up any room and was guaranteed to put a smile on your face,” the page reads.