It is the worst nightmare of parents – having a child die before they do.
Samar Aboukhdair, 34, of Lakeland, faced that possibility and risked her own life to prevent it from happening on Saturday, October 13 at a little after 6 p.m. in Pass-a-Grille.
Strong tidal currents overpowered four of the eight children she was supervising while they were swimming north of the jetty located at the south end of the beach adjacent to Gulf Way, according to law enforcement reports.
Witnesses said they heard screaming and reported that four children were struggling in the water. Four Good Samaratians pulled two of the children to safety.
Aboukhdair then “went after the third child and became caught in the current herself,” according to a report from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. In an effort to help, “one of the older children went in the water and also became caught.”
When deputies arrived, St. Pete Fire Rescue rescued the remaining children and Aboukhdair from the water.
According to law enforcement reports, paramedics treated the mother at the scene then transported her to nearby Palms of Pasadena Hospital where, on Saturday at about 10:30 p.m., she was listed in critical but stable condition.
Three of the children sustained minor injuries and were also taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure and were released.
Aboukhdair’s six children are Mahmoud, 13; Miriam, 12; Talia, 11; Naji, 8; Abraham 5; and Alisa, 5. The children from two different neighbors are Grace Pierson, 11, and Jada Abriel, 12.
The four witnesses who also assisted with the rescue are Greg Lynch of Floral City; Scott Cooper of Ft. Meade, Florida; and, Richard and Laura Grandy of Seminole.
According to a news report in the Tampa Bay Times, the Grandys were looking for seashells in the area when they heard one of the children shout.
“I just kicked into rescue mode,” said Richard Grandy, who used to work in sanitation in New York City and responded after the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Richard Grande told the Times he managed to get one of the kids out of the water and his wife saved another.
That’s when the couple saw the mother, who had been on the beach, go into the water to try to help, they told the Times.
The kids on shore clung to his wife as they watched what happened to Samar Aboukhdair and the whole ordeal was “sad,” said Richard Grande to the Times.
After the rescue, parents of the two neighbor children were contacted and they picked up their children, according to law enforcement reports.
Deputies were able to contact Aboukhdair’s husband, who is currently out of the country. According to law enforcement reports, he intended to take the first flight home. At his direction, the children were placed in the care of a family friend, who picked them up from the beach.
On Sunday, October 14 at about 1 p.m., officials announced that Aboukhdair had died at 7:21 a.m. from injuries she received during her attempted rescue of the children.
The drowning incident is under investigation, according to law enforcement reports.