APOLLO BEACH — Authorities are winding down a search for a man who jumped into the waters off Apollo Beach on Friday in an attempt to save a man and his young son from a rip current, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday.
Search and rescue crews have been looking for Kristoff Murray, 27, since his wife called 911 in a panic around 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sheriff Chad Chronister said.
The couple were on the beach at the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve when Murray spotted a man struggling to free himself and a boy from a rip current. Murray jumped into the water in hopes of pulling them to safety, but became caught in the current, the caller said. Soon, all three were swept into Tampa Bay.
Murray “saw the adult and child were struggling and immediately, without hesitation, jumped in the water to try to save the both of them,” Chronister said. “We’re calling him not just a Good Samaritan, but our Apollo Beach Hero.”
Searchers found the father’s body about 90 minutes into the search and his 3-year-old son was located soon after. The boy was taken to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital South, where doctors later pronounced him dead.
The Sheriff’s Office did not identify the father or son because of its interpretation of Marsy’s Law, a voter-approved amendment to the state Constitution that was meant to protect crime victims but consequently deprives the public of information long available under Florida’s public records law.
The Coast Guard called off its search for Murray on Saturday and by Sunday evening, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office said the agency’s efforts were also beginning to “wind down.”
The sheriff’s marine and aviation units, along with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, searched the waters around the 6000 block of Surfside Boulevard throughout the night on Friday and Saturday.
The Sheriff’s Office and the fish and wildlife commission will continue doing spot checks and regular patrols of the area, sheriff’s spokesperson Natalia Verdina said.
The Apollo Beach Nature Preserve remained closed to the public Sunday so search efforts could continue uninterrupted, Hillsborough County spokesperson Todd Pratt said.
The newly refurbished two-acre preserve sits at the end of a residential peninsula and features an observation tower, views of the Tampa Bay shoreline, a sandy beach, fishing, picnicking and sunbathing.
No swimming is allowed there, but the beach has long been a popular spot for locals and their dogs to wade in the expansive shallow waters of the bay.
Witnesses said that’s what the father and son were doing when the current pulled them away.
Chronister said the tragedy should be a somber reminder for families heading to area beaches this summer to head all warnings of hazardous conditions in the water.
“When you have areas that are clearly marked ‘no swimming’ it’s for a reason,” Chronister said. “I’m asking every parent out there don’t put an infant child near any type of moving or open body of water without having a life jacket on.”
A sign posted at the locked preserve entrance gate Sunday said it will remain closed until further notice. Below it, on a boardwalk, was a bouquet of flowers and a teddy bear.
Staff writer Kathryn Varn contributed to this report.