New Jersey

Girl Dead, Cousin on Life Support After Being Pulled From Waters off Jersey Shore

What to Know

  • Two young cousins in elementary school got caught in the surf off Belmar Beach on Thursday evening
  • One of the girls died and the other was on life support at an area hospital; it appeared no adults were with them at the time
  • Meanwhile, rescuers were scouring the ocean off Atlantic City for two teenagers who were seen struggling in the water

A 13-year-old girl is dead and her 12-year-old cousin is fighting for her life after the two of them got stranded in the ocean off New Jersey Thursday, officials say.

The two young girls, cousins at nearby Belmar Elementary, were spotted struggling in the waters off Belmar Beach in the afternoon, according to Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty. They were both pulled ashore, but one of them died and the other was on life support at Jersey Shore Medical Center.

Witnesses say they saw two police officers stripping down out of their uniforms and jumping into the water before rescuers arrived around 5 p.m.

"They were the first guys in at the scene, I saw them when they pulled up in the cars, and they were grabbing their rescue buoys," Belmar resident Bill McKim said. "So I knew it was bad when those guys are jumping out and grabbing those and running right to the water." 

Rescuers pulled the 12-year-old girl from the surf near 10th Avenue Beach and immediately administered CPR sometime after 6 p.m. About a half-hour later, an unconscious 13-year-old Mitzi Hernandez was located in the water at 9111 and Ocean Avenue, officials said.

The girls were both taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, where Hernandez was pronounced dead. Her cousin remained in critical condition and on life support on Friday night, the hospital said. 

No lifeguards were on duty at the time, and apparently no adults were with the young girls. Coast Guard and dive teams searched for more swimmers, fearing there were more children in the water. Officials later confirmed that the two cousins were the only ones. 

"It's a sad scene out here," said Jared Bassett, of Belmar. "You can't be swimming past 5 o'clock." 

Mayor Doherty was visibly shaken as he talked with residents and reporters at a press conference Thursday night. 

"I know we say this continuously, and people hear it all the time, about not swimming unless there are lifeguards present, but it can be very tempting unfortunately," he said.

Bilingual grief counselors will be on hand at the girls' school Friday; it's the last day of classes. 

Doherty called it the "worst day in the history of Belmar Elementary." 

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