GoFundMe Hayley Whiting
A Texas mom is going out of her way to thank a stranger for his selfless actions after he heroically rescued her 10-year-old daughter from a strong rip current over the summer.
Without the help of Kevin Cozzi, Samantha Whiting knows her family's beach day in Monterey, California would have turned out differently. That's why the Texas mom said she created a GoFundMe page for Cozzi and his fiancée.
"If it wasn’t for him risking his life in such a selfless act, I would have lost not only my own life but my baby girl," Samantha wrote on the fundraiser. "I want to raise money for Kevin and his fiancé[e] to have their dream wedding and honeymoon... Lord knows he deserves so much more than this."
Thinking back to that scary day, Samantha recalled to ABC affiliate KFSN how Hayley was playing in the waves when she asked her to come in closer.
It was too late for the 10 year old, who found herself being pulled out to sea in a riptide as she attempted to make her way to shore.
"I was thinking, 'This is not happening, there's no way I'm being pulled out,'" Hayley told the outlet. "I was really terrified."
Samantha, who tried to swim out and save her daughter, added to KFSN: "I will never forget her face when she said, 'Mom, help me!'"
Luckily, Cozzi was nearby with his fiancée and heard the commotion. A competitive swimmer himself, the California man said he had no hesitations about jumping into the waters after Hayley and Samantha.
"I've been swimming since I was 3 years old competitively, so I felt like I could get to them," Cozzi recalled to KFSN. "I ran out there and as soon as I got to the mom, I just told her to give me her daughter because I knew she was struggling."
Cozzi ultimately was able to rescue Hayley, carrying her into shore before a lifeguard came to their rescue and took over, according to the outlet.
"He saved us," Samantha told KFSN. "If it wasn't for him coming to grab her off of me, there's no way that we both would've made it."
Amid the chaos, Samantha said she only managed to get Cozzi's first name but insisted on reconnecting with the heroic man after the incident, according to the outlet.
For the past few months, the Texas mom had been searching for Cozzi before recently posting in Facebook group Merced Neighborhood Watch, where she explained what happened on Aug. 15 and asked if anyone could help her find the bystander, KFSN reported.
Within a few hours, users in the group successfully connected Samantha to Cozzi, who later disclosed that he was forced to cancel his wedding due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the outlet.
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Wanting to give back to Cozzi, Samantha decided to set up the GoFundMe page, aptly titled "A Hero Named Kevin," and raise money for him and his fiancée so they can eventually have their dream nuptials.
So far, the page has raised close to $2,000 — but Cozzi told KFSN he's happier to know Hayley is safe than receiving a reward.
"That girl being saved was enough for me, honestly," he explained to the outlet.
As the mother-daughter duo continues to raise money for Cozzi — and also plan to see him again in person next fall when they attend his wedding — Hayley has one message for her rescuer.
"Thank you so much and you were really brave to come out there," she told KFSN. "[He's] probably one of the biggest heroes I've ever met."
Those interested in donating to the GoFundMe for Cozzi can do so here.