ST. PETE BEACH — A Lakeland mother who went to Pass-a-Grille with her six children Saturday died after being caught in a tidal current, Pinellas deputies said.
Samar Aboukhdair, 36, was out Saturday afternoon near the southernmost tip of the beach.
According to a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office release, Aboukhdair was watching her children and two of her neighbors' kids, all between the ages of 5 and 13.
At 6:09 p.m., four of the eight children were in the water.
Another beachgoer, Richard Grande, 56, happened to be there with his wife, Laura Grande. The two, who live in Seminole, like to look for seashells in the area, he said.
They heard a child shout, he said. The children looked to be stuck in a strong tidal current.
Grande said he used to work in sanitation in New York and responded after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I just kicked into rescue mode," he said.
The Grandes, along with two other bystanders, Greg Lynch and Scott Cooper, did their best to help while responders were on the way, deputies reported.
Richard Grande said he managed to get one of the kids out of the water, and Laura Grande saved another.
They saw Aboukhdair, who had been on the beach, go in to help.
She was "going on just trying to hold her baby up," Grande said. One of the older children on land also jumped in.
But both became caught in the current themselves. Grande called it "just a bad scene," seeing the woman start to drown.
When St. Pete Fire Rescue arrived, responders pulled Aboukhdair and the remaining children from the water.
The mother was taken to Palms of Pasadena Hospital, according to the Sheriff's Office. On Saturday night, deputies reported that she was in critical condition — but stable. But by Sunday morning, she had died.
Grande said it was tough to watch the six siblings see what happened to their mother, and that the kids clung to his wife on the shore. He called the whole ordeal "sad."
Lynch said he was sending prayers to the Aboukhdair family.
Deputies said three children suffered minor injuries, and authorities took them to the hospital as a precaution, but all were released Saturday night.
Aboukhdair's children were with a family friend Saturday night while they waited for her husband to fly back from another country, deputies reported. The other two children were reunited with their parents.
Contact Langston Taylor at 727-893-8659 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @langstonitaylor.