Karen Graham was visiting Fort Morgan with friends as part of a girls' trip when the accident occurred


A Tennessee mother of two was killed over the weekend after a “human chain” she reportedly helped form to rescue a pair of beachgoers in Alabama went awry.

Karen Graham, 54, was on a girls’ trip with friends at the beach in Fort Morgan on Saturday when they got word that someone in the water needed help, NBC affiliate WPMI reported.

“Someone started hollering for help, and Karen took off running to help,” Graham’s mother Laura Carrigan told the outlet.

She and about 20 other people quickly banded together and held hands to form a human chain, with Graham at the very front of the line, and they entered the water to make their way to the person calling for help, according to WPMI.

karen graham
Karen Graham
| Credit: Go Fund Me

At some point, however, the chain fell apart, leaving those involved “in distress.” The Coast Guard reportedly said that it sent a response boat to the scene from Dauphin Island, but all rescues were made by local responders with Fort Morgan Fire Rescue.

Fort Morgan, Alabama
Fort Morgan, Alabama

“[Graham] was the first one in, and she was the furthest in the surf, so she got tossed around more than anybody else,” Carrigan told CBS affiliate WKRG. “She just didn’t make it.”

Graham was airlifted to a local hospital, but Carrigan told WPMI that the doctor said her daughter had swallowed too much water, and ultimately died of a heart attack from the salt build-up.

“I’m hurt, of course, that she’s gone, but I know she worked really hard to save those girls’ lives,” Carrigan told the outlet.

WPMI reported that the Coast Guard initially said it received a 911 report of a 9-year-old boy having been swept out into the current, though a witness who provided the outlet with video of the human chain said that the would-be victims were actually two young women.

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Neither the Coast Guard not the Fort Morgan Fire Department immediately responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

While Fort Morgan Assistant Fire Chief Michael Ludvigsen praised the bravery of those forming the chain, he told WPMI that people should refrain from making similar rescue attempts.

“Don’t get me wrong, there have been times when human chains have been successful. It’s extremely dangerous,” he said. “You’re putting so many more people in danger.”

A GoFundMe page arranged for the Collierville-based Graham’s family has so far raised more than $5,000.

“Karen is a HERO!! She gave her life to save another! She is also an organ donor and will be saving many more lives!” the page read. “I bet she is up in heaven dancing, like she loved to do!”

Carrigan added to WKRG that her daughter was an “energetic” problem-solver, who loved life and would do anything for anybody.