Dad who died saving drowning kids labelled 'hero' by wife: Told sons 'just hold on. I'll be OK'

Picture: GoFundMe
Picture: GoFundMe 

A woman whose husband drowned while saving their boys from a powerful riptide has labelled him a 'hero'.

Angela Morel Graham was out at the beach with her son Bruno, 13 from a previous relationship, husband Josh Graham, and her stepson Sawyer, 10, when their lives changed forever.

While the boys had been happily playing in what appeared to be calm water, a quick change in the weather suddenly turned things very dangerous when the boys were suddenly swept out from the shore. 

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

Graham, had been a college football player and was an experienced swimmer, Morel Graham said. But struggled against the rip at the unpatrolled Texas beach. 

Bystanders swam out to help, with one man helping to bring the two boys to shore.

"The guy with the two pieces of life vest grabbed the boys," Morel Graham told TODAY.

"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'."

However by the time their rescuer was able to reach Graham, the 42-year-old was already unconscious. He was unable to be revived.

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It has been a particularly brutal blow for his widow, who had only been married to Graham for a year before the tragedy.

Graham also had a younger son Hudson, five, and Morel Graham said all three boys would remember him as a hero.

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

A fundraising page has been set up for the family to pay for funeral expenses and grief counselling. 

As Morel Graham wrote on the page, she had been 'torn to pieces' and felt as if her soul had been 'ripped from her body' by the loss. 

"On April 10th we lost the love of my life, my soul mate, the best father to my son and stepsons, a loving son and brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and dear friend to so many," she wrote.

"We need all the prayers we can get, I just don't know how I will find the strength to go on without you my love. I have experienced loss my whole life. I have also experienced the immeasurable love and sympathy of loved ones and strangers and that has never been more evident than in the last day," she continued.

"Countless strangers diving in the ocean to try to save my love. Countless more praying with me and holding me up when my knees buckled as I watched so helplessly my sons and husband struggle in the water, as I saw my boys come to safety and my love still out there, getting consumed by the riptide."