Aleisha Rankin and Gregory Grant (Family Photos, WJAX via CNN)
(Meredith) – A man and woman sacrificed their lives to save a toddler from drowning in the ocean off Georgia’s coast on Mother’s Day.
Several families were celebrating the holiday on the beach of St. Simons Island on Sunday evening when they witnessed 34-year-old Aleisha Rankin fighting to stay afloat.
She jumped in the water to save a little girl, who began to drown while playing with a group of unattended children, according to The Brunswick News.
"All I heard was there was a baby in the water," witness Travis Williams told the newspaper.
Good Samaritans plunged into the water as high tide approached to rescue Rankin and the toddler, including 39-year-old Gregory Grant. Witnesses said at one point Grant vanished beneath the waves and didn’t resurface.
"The undercurrent, it was so strong," Williams said. "We couldn't grab him."
Williams said he and others managed to bring Rankin and the child to shore on the beach, roughly 70 miles south of Savannah. He said he watched as two nurses performed CPR in an effort to revive the woman.
Rankin, a mother of four, later died at the hospital. The toddler survived without any serious injuries.
Rankin's first cousin, Von Walker, said their family is heartbroken but they have some peace knowing Rankin gave her life to save someone else's.
“She always put herself aside when it came to anybody’s child, not just her own,” Walker said. “That’s just the mother in her. She did what any mother would do — on Mother’s Day.”
Local police officers, firefighters, the Coast Guard and Georgia Department of Natural Resources officers continued to search for Grant using boats, helicopters and drones. He remained missing until Monday morning, when members of Grant's family on the beach spotted his body in the water.
Grant leaves behind an 18-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.
“We’re just so proud of him,” Leah Woods, Grant’s aunt, told the newspaper. “He took it upon himself to do something for the greater good at a time when it was really needed. Now we have another angel above to look over our family.”
The Associated Press and The Brunswick News contributed to this story.
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