When two young boys were caught in the water off the coast of Panama City Beach, FL, on Saturday, it was the heroism and quick thinking of a group of strangers that ultimately saved their lives.
As ABC News reports, the boys, who were elementary-school-age, were struggling to stay afloat with their boogie boards, and most of those who initially tried to save them ended up getting stuck in the water with them, too. Since it was evening—around 6:30 p.m.—there were no lifeguards around to help.
Married couple Tabatha and Brittany Monroe, who were out on their boogie boards, too, noticed the boys were stuck and attempted to save them. Brittany tells ABC News, "We grabbed the kids and tried to start swimming in and it just kept pulling us back. The water was really strong [on Saturday] but where we were it wasn’t pulling us. When we got to where the kids were, that's when we realized we were stuck."
The boys' mom, grandma and uncle had swam up to try to save the boys as well, but got caught in the water, too. Only Brittany was able to swim far enough to reach three teenage boys to help her get back to shore. "I couldn’t get back in the water. My lungs were full of water and I couldn’t breathe," she said.
Seeing a total of nine swimmers in distress, Derek Simmons and wife Jessica Simmons decided to start a human chain. Because while together they might not have been strong enough to save the group, there's strength in numbers. He tells ABC News, “The only thing that popped into my mind was if you’ve ever watched ants, when one of their babies is in trouble and can’t move, they start making a chain in order to pass them down the line to get them to safety. That’s the only thing I was thinking of: if we’re arm to arm, we can get them.”
The chain started with a group of around five people but grew to a diverse group of around 40, according to a police report ABC News obtained. "It was pretty amazing stuff for it to be different races, different genders, different ages; everybody got together to help,” Derek says.
With interlocked arms, members of the chain would approach each person caught in the water and pull that person back into the chain, saving the lives of all the people who were in distress, including the two boys.
Even though it was the couple's idea to start the human chain, Derek seems to have a humble view of the heroic feat he and his wife orchestrated, and he's as stunned as everyone else is by how so many people worked together to the lives of complete strangers. “[Jessica and I] are no Olympic swimmers, not even Coast Guard swimmers, but just two average people who spend a lot of time in the water. Everybody that was involved is a hero in my book," he tells ABC News. "It was humbling to know that we still live in a world that still has some humanity left. My gratitude is for the people who were risking their lives as being part of the chain."