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    Family remembers teen who died saving children pulled by strong currents at Florida beach

    By Saleen Martin, USA TODAY,


    Bryce Brooks made everyone feel like he was their best friend.

    The 16-year-old from Atlanta was kind and he was a protector, so it makes sense that he risked his life on April 6, 2023 at Johnson Beach in Pensacola to save a group of kids who had been pulled by a rip tide .

    His parents, Alfred “Shivy” Brooks II and Crystal Brooks weren’t there because they’d let him go on vacation with family friends.

    Bryce was in the water trying to save the group of kids when the group lost sight of him. His uncle, Charles “Chuck” Johnson II went in to save him and both of them died that day. A year later, the teen’s family honored him for his bravery and remembering him for the protector he was.

    Family and friends held a balloon release on April 6 at Maynard Jackson High School in his honor.

    “His passing was something that made a huge impact on the entire school community,” said his father, Shivy, who serves on the Atlanta Public School Board.
    Bryce Brooks, a 16-year-old who died on April 6, 2023 at Johnson Beach in Pensacola while trying to rescue a group of kids in the water. Crystal Brooks

    He said Southeast Atlanta is a “very tight knit community” and they really showed up for his family after Bryce died, both a year ago and on April 6.

    As parents who have lost children, there’s temptation to close yourself off and beat yourself up, he said, so he wanted to create a space for his family to heal with the community, he said.

    More on Bryce: Atlanta teen died a hero trying to save 4 children from drowning in Florida waters

    Teenager didn’t hesitate to rescue other children in need

    The day Bryce died, he had spoken to his mom via video chat around noon. A few hours later his parents got a call that the group he was in couldn’t find him at the beach.

    He and some friends had seen kids in trouble and swam out to help. Bryce was pulled by strong currents and hadn’t been seen for some time.

    Bryce’s uncle was found first and people in the area tried to perform CPR on him to no avail. By the time his parents were called, Bryce hadn’t been seen for 20 minutes.

    “Eventually they found Bryce and he was airlifted,” his father, Shivy, told USA TODAY. “Our thought was when we heard that he was being airlifted, that there was hope … When you are submerged longer than four minutes, even if you are to survive, there’s a high probability that there may be brain damage. It wasn't looking good.”
    Bryce Brooks with his younger brother, Christian. Crystal Brooks

    Teenager was gentle, loving ‘Fortnite king’ who acted like a father to his little brother

    Crystal, Bryce’s mother, said he was loving and gentle. He didn’t have any enemies. He embraced everyone.

    He was a big gamer and built his own computer, his mother said. He played Minecraft and especially loved Fortnite, she said.

    “Fortnite king over here,” his mother laughed during an interview with USA TODAY on Wednesday, adding that one night, he even tried to play for 12 hours straight.

    He was also an excellent big brother who took his role seriously. He always looked out for his younger brother Christian, now 7 years old.

    They’d play together and usually if their mom couldn’t find them, she knew to check one of their bedrooms. There, she’d find them watching TV, playing on their tablets or napping.
    Bryce Brooks with his younger brother Christian and their mother, Crystal Brooks. Crystal Brooks

    “He was always looking out for him,” their mother said. “There were so many times I had to tell him ‘You know, you're not his parent. You're his big brother.’”

    If ever they went out and Christian wanted to do something a little extra, Bryce would chime in before their mother could with a “No, you don't need any more sugar” or “Calm down.”

    He was into fashion and wanted to start a clothing line and to study music production at Clark Atlanta University. He listened to a lot of Kendrick Lamar’s music, as well as J. Cole.
    Bryce Brooks with his mother, Crystal Brooks. Crystal Brooks

    Family remembers teenager with foundation pushing for water safety

    In addition to remembering Bryce a year after his death, his family also started the Bryce Brooks Foundation last year to award scholarships to graduating seniors, something the 16-year-old didn’t live to become.

    The nonprofit asks that applicants produce videos to explain what it means to be a hero. The group also helps community members receive swimming education so they can be safe in the water.

    This year’s applications should open up soon, his father, Shivy, said.

    “We're going to be giving away some scholarships at his graduation, which should be his graduation, next month,” he said. “I was elected to the school board in December, so I'm actually going to be speaking at his graduation.”
    Bryce Brooks with his younger brother, Christian. Crystal Brooks

    ‘So many people drowned that weekend’

    Bryce wasn’t the most skilled swimmer but didn't have many years of training, said his parents, both farmer lifeguards. They now make sure his little brother, Christian, stays in the pool and knows how to navigate the water safely.

    “I think that was probably the most shocking part when we heard about what he did and the added amount of courage it took for him to do it because he was not the strongest swimmer,” his dad said.
    Bryce Brooks (left) with his father Alfred “Shivy” Brooks II, his mother Crystal Brooks and his younger brother, Christian. Crystal Brooks

    The beach is named after Rosamond Johnson, who fought in the Korean War. He died at just 17 years old on July 26, 1950 and had already saved two soldiers. He was killed trying to rescue a third. Bryce’s father calls his son’s death at that beach ironic in that sense.

    His parents said officials at the Johnson Beach could have done more to warn swimmers about the dangerous conditions.

    “They didn't even change the flags until another group of people had to be pulled out after Bryce and Chuck," his father said. "As if our child and Chuck drowning wasn't enough.”

    Escambia County did not immediately respond to requests for comment but according to television station WEAR-TV , four people were pulled over 100 yards into the water by rip currents that weekend.
    Alfred “Shivy” Brooks II, Crystal Brooks with their sons Bryce and Christian. Crystal Brooks

    Bryce’s parents said he is a hero.

    “Our boys show up as heroes every day and I encourage everyone, parents, teachers, community members, to see the heroes all around them, to celebrate and love on them, and to cherish them every day,” his father said.

    Contact the Bryce Brooks Foundation at (404) 889-1269 or .

    Visit to donate to the nonprofit’s cause.

    Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY's NOW team. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757. Follow her on Twitter at @SaleenMartin or email her at .

    This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Family remembers teen who died saving children pulled by strong currents at Florida beach

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