APOLLO BEACH — A body recovered in the waters off Apollo Beach on Monday is believed to be that of the “Apollo Beach hero” who went missing while attempting to save a father and his son from a rip current Friday afternoon.
After a four-day search, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said he felt confident that the body discovered Monday afternoon was that of Kristoff Murray, the 27-year-old Tampa man who was swept out to sea along with the father and son he attempted to save.
Chronister spoke directly to Murray’s family during a press conference held Monday evening, wishing them peace, comfort and closure despite the horrible tragedy that took Kristoff’s life.
“Your husband, your brother - his actions were nothing less than heroic,” Chronister said. “He risked and ultimately gave his life for two complete strangers who were in need.”
The announcement came with a caveat that it will be up to the county Medical Examiner’s office to officially identify the body. It was found on a small spoil island about one mile west of the TECO Power Plant by workers from Hillsborough County Zoning and Maritime Safety who were out fixing manatee habitat warning signs, Chronister said.
Murray and his wife were at the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve on Friday when they saw Janosh Purackal, 37, and his 3-year-old son, Daniel Purackal, struggling to free themselves from a rip current, the Sheriff’s Office said. After a roughly 90-minute search that evening, rescue crews recovered the body of both Purackal and his son. The father was pronounced dead at the scene but young Daniel was rushed to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital South, the agency said. Despite attempts to revive the boy, he died on the way to the hospital.
“Our hearts break for the father and son who lost their lives,” Chronister said. “The horrible sight led a selfless stranger to sacrifice his own life, in an attempt to save them.”
The Apollo Beach Nature Preserve remained closed to the public on Monday so search efforts could continue uninterrupted, a county spokesman said.
No swimming is allowed in the waters off the two-acre, sandy beach at the heart of the preserve, yet it’s long been a popular spot for locals and their dogs to wade in the expansive, shallow waters of the bay.
But the no-swimming signs, have nothing to do with potential rip currents, said Forest Turbiville, director of Hillsborough County’s Conservation and Environmental Lands Management department. Rather, the warnings were posted because of the dangers of a nearby boating channel and an anti-erosion rock structure. Friday’s drowning incident, Turbiville said, is unlike anything he’s seen at Apollo Beach in his nearly twenty years at the department.
The father and son, who live in Gibsonton, were in the shallow, beachside lagoon on Friday when a sudden rip current pulled them out into the bay, Chronister said. Their tragic deaths have brought attention to the dangerous currents throughout the area, he said, and county officials have been working with his office to discuss additional ways to keep swimmers out of the water.
“There’s no doubt in my mind there will be some additional safety measures put in place because of this incident,” Chronister said. “After a 90-minute search, we found their bodies one mile away, and with a current that strong I don’t think any person or animal should be in that water.”
The sheriff’s marine and aviation units, along with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, the Coast Guard 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. On Sunday, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office announced that search and recovery efforts for Murray were “winding down.”
“They never gave up hope, they never stopped, but we had to make them go home at some point,” Chronister said. “We had to make them rest at some point, knowing that throughout the entire search that current never slowed down.”