Dad of 7 Dies Trying to Save His 4 Drowning Kids Caught in High Tide at the Beach

Johnny Lee Vann Jr.

A father is being remembered as a hero after he lost his life trying to save his kids. Johnny Lee Vann Jr., a 35-year-old father of seven, had brought his kids to Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina over the weekend when four of his children fell while walking on a jetty wall in the ocean. The kids who ended up in the water started to drown when the dad immediately sprang into action. But his attempt to save their lives ultimately cost him his own.

  • The father and his family headed to the beach on Sunday for a casual day, but things became dangerous when four of his kids were swept away by rough waters.

    People reported that four of Johnny's children were walking along a jetty wall at about 4 p.m. on July 14, when they fell into the water and began to struggle. The dad immediately saw the commotion and went running as high tide waves swept them away. "He never hesitated,” his wife, Dawn Vann, recalled. “He threw everything down -- phone keys and ran out there.”

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  • He was able to pull one of his kids to safety, but tragically couldn't stay above the current after he dove back in to save the others.

    Johnny and his other children were only under water for 30 seconds when lifeguards and bystanders went into the water to save them, ABC News reported. But the father selflessly urged them to rescue his children first.

    “They could’ve easily saved him,” told People. “He said, ‘Forget about me. Get my kids.’ He didn’t care about nothing else.”

    Once Johnny's children were safe, rescue workers went back and found the dad submerged. They then pulled him ashore and performed CPR on him for at least 45 minutes, his wife told People. But he was ultimately unable to be revived.

    Witness Andre Nel told WECT that the image of Johnny's death will stay with him forever. “It was horrible,” Nel said. “It was a horrible scene going on here. We had this gentleman lying on the ground and people screaming and this young child that he went to go and save was screaming the whole time, ‘That’s my daddy!’ We had my little daughter and a nephew of hers and I’ve got the chills right now just thinking of it.”

    “You couldn’t ask for a better person,” the mom added, heartbroken. “You could have took anybody else. I mean me personally, I would’ve preferred to take me than him.”

  • Which is why Dawn is now warning about how dangerous the jetty is.

    The mom told WWAY TV that that area of Wrightsville Beach isn't safe because the jetty isn't visible during high tide. Nel added that there were signs warning beachgoers about the dangers of the jetty, but they were blown away during Hurricane Matthew and never replaced.

    “Either they need to make it taller or take it out the water completely, because it’s still dangerous,” the mom said.

    The family has also started a GoFundMe to raise money for a number of expenses, including grief counseling, relocation expenses, and funeral costs of transporting Johnny's remains to Detroit to be buried next to his mother, People reported.

    "Johnny was known to his family and friends as a pillar of jovial spirit," his GoFundMe page reads. "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."