The Whiting family was enjoying their last day of vacation on a sunny beach in Monterey, California, when 10-year-old Haylee Whiting got caught in a rip current.
Haylee’s mom, Samantha Whiting was sitting on the shore when she heard her daughter crying for help.
Samantha Whiting sprinted into the water to try and grab her daughter but underestimated the strength of the current. Soon the waves were swallowing them both.
“I was thinking this is not happening. There’s no way I’m being pulled out. I was terrified,” Haylee told CNN affiliate ABC7.
“I will never forget her face when she said, ‘Mom, help me!'” Whiting said.
Fortunately, one beachgoer heard the screaming and sprang into action.
“I’ve been swimming since I was 3 years old competitively, so I felt like I could get to them. I ran out there and as soon as I got to the mom, I knew she was struggling,” Kevin Cozzi told ABC7.
Cozzi grabbed Haylee from her mother’s arms—leading them both to safety on the shore.
Haylee suffered no injuries and the Texas family headed home the following day, grateful to have avoided a tragic end to their otherwise blissful vacation.
However, the Whitings never got Kevin’s last name and, as months went by, the family couldn’t stop thinking about this heroic stranger.
“There were hundreds of people on the beach that day and he was the only one brave enough to do that,” Whiting said. “I knew there were no words to thank him enough for what he did, a complete stranger risking his life to save us”
Last week, Whiting took to social media to try and find Kevin’s contact information. She wanted to thank him again.
Unsurprisingly, the two were quickly connected. As they talked, Cozzi mentioned he was getting married next fall.
“My daughter had the idea to raise money for him to help with his wedding, honeymoon or just anything else they might need,” Whiting said.
Whiting set up a GoFundMe page to help Cozzi and his fiancé plan their dream wedding—a wedding that Haylee and Whiting both plan on attending so they can thank him yet again.
While Cozzi is beyond thankful for the gesture, he told ABC7, “That girl being saved was enough for me.”