'Beloved and Respected' Florida Teacher Dies on Her Birthday While Saving Son with Autism from Drowning

·2 min read
Michelle Vargas
Michelle Vargas

GoFundMe

A south Florida teacher is being remembered by her community after she died while saving her 10-year-old son.

Michelle Vargas, a teacher at Cutler Bay Middle School, was in El Salvador with her son Michael, who has autism, to visit his paternal grandparents when they were caught up in a riptide at the beach, according to a GoFundMe campaign.

Vargas drowned while attempting to rescue Michael, who ultimately survived the harrowing incident, wrote organizer Alicia Giraud, a colleague.

"If you knew Michelle personally, you know she'd give up her life 100 times if it meant saving Michael," Giraud wrote.

She died on her 49th birthday, according to the GoFundMe, NBC Miami and the Miami Herald.

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Vargas taught grades 6, 7 and 8 in addition to special education, Cutler Bay Middle School Principal Ignacio Rodriguez told CBS affiliate WFOR.

Rodriguez remembered Vargas as "a unique individual" who "really had a passion for working with students with learning disabilities."

"She had a way of connecting with her students that was just beyond a normal teacher," he told the outlet.

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The principal also spoke of Vargas' can-do attitude at a news conference on Tuesday, according to the Miami Herald.

"She was a mother figure to these kids," he said, per the newspaper. "Every school needs a person like Michelle Vargas."

In another tribute to the "beloved and respected teacher," Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Jose Dotres said Vargas "impacted the lives of Cutler Bay Middle School students for nearly a decade."

"From all of us at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the Vargas family during this difficult time," Dotres said at the press conference.

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Giraud hopes donations to the GoFundMe, which has raised over $37,000 as of Thursday, will allow Vargas' family to "give Michelle a proper funeral and burial" in the United States. The funds will also "help Michael receive the care he will need for the rest of his life," she wrote.

"I can honestly say Michelle was an incredible human being and will be sincerely missed by many," Giraud wrote on GoFundMe. "She was one of the few people I called a friend."