"You couldn’t ask for a better person," Dawn Vann said of her late husband, Johnny Lee Vann, Jr.
A North Carolina father of 7 died on Sunday as he heroically tried to rescue four of his children who were drowning in the rough waters of the state’s Wrightsville Beach.
Johnny Lee Vann, Jr., 35, was unable to be revived by rescue crews after being pulled from the ocean, despite 45 minutes of CPR, his wife Dawn Vann told WWAY.
“You couldn’t ask for a better person,” she told the ABC/CBS/CW-affiliate, adding that she was in shock and denial. “You could have took anybody else. I mean me personally, I would’ve preferred to take me than him.”
According to Dawn, her husband dove into the ocean to save their children seconds after they were swept away by the raging high tide waves.
They had been walking alongside a submerged jetty wall around 4 p.m. local time when they fell into the water.
“He never hesitated,” Dawn told WECT-6. “He threw everything down — phone, keys — and ran out there.”
Capt. Jason Bishop of the Wrightsville Beach Police Department told ABC News that Johnny was able to pull one of his children to safety but was unable to stay above the current after he dove back in for the second.
Bystanders and lifeguards on the beach ran to help, but Johnny insisted they save his kids first, Dawn told WECT-6. “They could’ve easily saved him,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Forget about me. Get my kids.’ He didn’t care about nothing else.”
After the children were safely on shore, emergency crews found Johnny submerged in the water, WECT-6 reported.
“His spirit is still alive and we’re all going to remember him as a hero,” Johnny’s daughter Kierstyn told WECT-6.
His family, who recently moved from Detroit, Michigan, to Durham, have since started a GoFundMe page to help pay for a number of expenses, including potential grief counseling, relocation expenses, and funeral costs of moving Johnny back home to Detroit to be buried next to his mother.
“Johnny was known to his family and friends as a pillar of jovial spirit,” a description on the GoFundMe page reads of the dad, who is also survived by three brothers, a father, and a sister. “His smile could light up any room and was guaranteed to put a smile on your face.”
“Our family is extremely grateful for any financial support and words of encouragement,” the message continues. “Nothing is too small or insignificant, so please feel free to share stories and pictures of Johnny! Thank You.”
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Days ago, a Georgia father visiting southwest Florida with his family pulled his 8-year-old daughter to safety from a dangerous rip current in the Gulf of Mexico before he drowned.
The body of Thomas Zakrewski, 46, was found Tuesday night, hours after he had gone missing in the treacherous tides. He and his wife had been walking with their daughter alongside a curved sandbar on the shore of Upper Captiva Island near Fort Meyers when the father and daughter were pulled into the water. His wife was only able to grab her daughter, who was passed to her by her husband, before he drowned.