A teen drowned off the coast of New Jersey Thursday evening, just hours before another man died and eight others had to be rescued while swimming in the waters off a Long Island beach, police said.
The deadly day in the water began just after 2:30 p.m., when 17-year-old Johnny Vasquez jumped from rocks into the Raritan Bay waters off Perth Amboy, according to police. It was not immediately clear why Vasquez, who family members said had autism and epilepsy, jumped into the water or if he knew how to swim.
After the teen went into the water, multiple people went in after him to help. Police said one man had a hold of him, but struggled as Vasquez was panicking.
"He became quite desperate, he was clinging to life...and it was a struggle at that point for them to make it to shore," said Perth Amboy Police Chief Larry Cattano.
For more than two hours, dive crews scoured the water where the bay meets the river. When teams from the NYPD found the boy's unconscious body just after 5 p.m., people at the scene broke down in tears.
"We gave it everything, we gave every last effort to this rescue and this operation. Our thoughts, our prayers are with the family," said fire chief Ed Mullin.
In a statement from the family, they told NBC New York that Johnny "was a special boy. He was a young man with a heart of gold and a whole world in front of him," and that he was beloved by his whole family.
The family said they don't know why Vasquez would've have gone into the water, and are hoping to find some answers. Police said the currents in that part of the water are especially strong, one of the numerous reasons swimming isn't allowed there, but it wasn't clear if Vasquez was aware of that.
About two hours later, police in Nassau County on Long Island received a call about multiple people in need of being rescued of Long Beach. The fire commissioner said that nine people were pulled from the water by Long beach life guards and the fire department. Four of those swimmers, who went into the water with no life guards on duty, were brought to the hospital.
A witness said he was among those who raced into the water in an attempt to save the people as they called for help.
"This woman came over screaming, 'Does anyone know how to swim?' I swam out to help them," said Jason Schorr. I grabbed onto one of the guys who was drowning, pulled him onto the rocks where paramedics and lifeguards were able to lift us up."
However, one man was more difficult to reach. An off-duty life guard pulled him onto her surfboard and paddled him back to the beach. First responders performed CPR on him as he went into cardiac arrest, but he later died at the hospital. His name or age were not immediately released.
The other swimmers brought to the hospital are expected to recover.