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'Hero' dad drowns saving his two sons from powerful riptide

“What Josh did for his boys — he would have done for anyone. That’s who he was."
/ Source: TODAY

A family outing turned to tragedy over the weekend when a devoted father died while saving his children from a riptide in Surfside Beach, Texas.

Josh Graham, an experienced swimmer and former college football player, sprang into action the moment he saw his sons, Sawyer, 10, and Bruno, 13, being sucked out to sea.

“I looked up and he was running into the water,” his wife Angela Morel Graham, 38, told TODAY Parents. "They had been playing waist-deep in the water; suddenly they were barely visible."

Josh Graham and Angela Morel Graham posed with their children, Hudson, Sawyer and Bruno. Erica Gillespie / Shot From the Heart Photography

There was no lifeguard on duty, so Morel Graham began screaming for people to help. Several good Samaritans bolted into the ocean, including one person who was carrying two small pieces of a life vest.

“The guy with the two pieces of life vest grabbed the boys," Morel Graham recalled. “Sawyer turned around and started crying. He said, “‘Daddy, hold on!’ and Josh said, ‘Everything is going to be all right. Just hold on. I’ll be OK.’”

Once Sawyer and Bruno were safe, the man tried to go back for Graham. But Graham had already lost consciousness.

A group of brave beachgoers worked together to pull Graham’s body to shore.

Graham was pronounced dead at a local hospital at the age of 42. He and Morel Graham had just celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary on March 16.

Josh Graham died while saving his sons, who were caught in a riptide. Erica Gillespie / Shot From the Heart Photography

“We got married three months after meeting. It was this whirlwind romance,” Morel Graham gushed. “I’d been a single mom for 10 years and then I found my soulmate." Morel Graham has one son, Bruno, from a previous relationship and with Graham's two sons, Sawyer and Hudson, 5, they made a blended family. "Someone told me, ‘God knew that you guys were only going to have a short time together — so you got to the good part immediately and stayed there for as long as you were together.’”

Morel Graham wants her spouse to be remembered as "a hero."

“What Josh did for his boys — he would have done for anyone,” she said. “That’s who he was."

Rip currents, which are powerful channels of fast-moving water, account for more than 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards, according to the United States Lifesaving Association. Signs of a rip current can include deeper, darker colored water, a channel of churning, choppy water, or a line of foam, seaweed or debris moving floating out to sea.

If you’re caught in a rip current, the most important thing is to stay calm, U.S. Coast Guard Commanding Officer Lt. Derek Wallin, previously told TODAY. “You want to try to conserve your energy,” Wallin said. “You want to be able to keep your wits about you and you want to make yourself as big a target as possible."