NC Dad of 7 Drowns Trying to Save 2 of His Kids from Rough Surf

Mary Scott
Jul 18, 2019
12:48 P.M.
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A North Carolina father of seven lost his life on Sunday while trying to save two of his kids from being swept away by rough waters at Wrightsville Beach.


Johnny Lee Vann Jr., 35, and his family were at Wrightsville Beach after church on Sunday when he saw two of his children who had been walking on a submerged jetty fall into the water, ABC News learned from the Wrightsville Beach Police Department.


Johnny wasted no time running out into the water to rescue his children. His wife, Dawn Vann, told WNCN:

“He never hesitated. He threw everything down – phone keys and ran out there. He got to both of them he grabbed them.”


After getting one out of harm’s way, Johnny was pulled under by the raging waves as he attempted to save the second child. Dawn recalled her husband saying he couldn’t breathe, but when other people on the beach ran towards him, his concern was for his kids.

Still To Come: The grieving widow has since raised an alarm over the hidden hazards on Wrightsville Beach

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

The children were brought safely to shore and rescue crews pulled Johnny from the water, but it was too late.


New Hanover County Dispatch told WWAY that a call came in for a drowning near the south end jetty around 4:15 pm and Dawn informed the outlet that emergency responders performed CPR on Johnny for at least 45 minutes, but it was all to no avail.

Fishing charter captain Andre Nel, who was at the beach, narrated the chaotic scene to WECT-TV:


“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!’”

“You couldn’t ask for a better person, you could have took (sic) anybody else,” Dawn said of her heroic late husband. “I mean me personally; I would’ve preferred to take me than him.”


The grieving widow has since raised an alarm over the hidden hazards on Wrightsville Beach. “Either they need to make it taller or take it out the water completely because it’s still dangerous,” Dawn said of the jetty. Andre agreed, noting that the beach is also lacking a lifeguard station nearby.

The Vann family, who recently moved to Connecticut from Michigan, is now in mourning as they remember the man they describe on a GoFundMe page as “as a pillar of jovial spirit.”

The online campaign was set up to raise funds for Johnny’s burial expenses, including the cost of transporting his body to Michigan, where Johnny will be buried next to his mother.

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