Beloved Florida Teacher Dies Saving Teen from Drowning in Lake Michigan: 'He Cared So Deeply for Others'

Thomas Kenning, 38, of St. Petersburg, died after helping save a teen who appeared to be "in distress," officials say

Thomas Kenning, Fla. Teacher Drowns After Saving Teen From Lake Michigan: ‘He Cared So Deeply for Others'
Photo: Thomas Kenning/Instagram

A beloved Florida teacher died while trying to save a teen in Lake Michigan.

Thomas Kenning, 38, of St. Petersburg, was visiting Porter Beach in Indiana with his family on Monday when he saw a girl "in distress," according to a news release from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources that was obtained by PEOPLE.

Officials say he managed to help the girl to safety "before going under the water and not resurfacing." He was rushed to Northwest Health Hospital upon being pulled from the water, but did not survive.

His wife Jasmine Kenning, 35, told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday that her husband "gave everything he could" and that "he cared so deeply for others."

"I think if he had the chance, he would do it again," she told the outlet.

An autopsy will be conducted to determine Kenning's cause of death, Indiana officials said in the release.

The Porter County Coroner's office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Thomas Kenning, Fla. Teacher Drowns After Saving Teen From Lake Michigan: ‘He Cared So Deeply for Others'
Thomas Kenning/Instagram

Officials were alerted to Monday's incident around 10:30 a.m. local time, Indiana officials said in the statement.

Mom Sharon Kenning, who was with her son that day, told ABC affiliate WFTS-TV that he was eager to help the swimmer.

"Tom was standing next to me and I could tell he was wanting to go help and I said don't do it, you're not strong enough swimmer and he hesitated," she said. "He took off his hat and handed me his phone and went out."

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DNR officer Nicole Baumann said Kenning and the teen, who was identified as a 17-year-old girl from Illinois, battled strong wind, currents and waves reaching 5 feet in height as they attempted to reach safety, per the Times.

Indiana Dunes State Park lifeguards, who had "arrived on scene to assist" in the rescue, pulled Kenning from the water shortly after he went under, officials said.

Indiana DNR says Porter Beach "is an unguarded beach," and that visitors are told to "swim at your own risk."

But Kenning's family said the man knew of these dangers and talked to his 9-year-old daughter about water safety prior to their trip.

"He even coached her before we went to the beach on Monday about the safety of the water and us not being able to go in the water. He was fully aware of the danger he was putting himself in," his sister, Laura Saylor, told WFTS-TV.

Kenning was a beloved teacher, who worked as a history teacher at Plato Academy in Pinellas Park, Fla., according to the Times. He was also an author of numerous books about Florida's history and environment.

In 2016, Kenning served as a TEACH Fellow for the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce TEACH Initiative, which shared a statement on social media mourning his death.

"Tom never failed to remind us 'to leave the world a little nicer than you found it,' and he did just that," they wrote.

A GoFundMe campaign has been started on behalf of Kenning's family. As of Thursday afternoon, it has raised more than $40,000.

Many of those donating to the GoFundMe recalled fond memories of Kenning; from adults who met him through his work in Florida classrooms and the TEACH Fellowship, to the students he impacted in the classroom.

Some words used to describe the late educator include "gracious," "humble," and "one of a kind."

"Tom truly believed in the best of people and sought to 'leave the planet a little bit nicer than he found it,' " reads a message on the fundraising page.

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