The parents of the 18-year-old Bartow man who died over the holiday weekend saving his sister are remembering him as the hero that he is.
Austin Welch jumped into the strong current at Peace River in Bartow after his 11-year-old sister, Crystal, fell in.
“He always told us that one day he’s going to be on the news,” said Austin’s mother, Barbie Welch.
That day has come, but not in the way his parents imagined.
“I didn’t think it would be for this, but I knew he would do something profound, something meaningful,” said his stepfatherr Curtis Droz.
In fact, the 18-year-old did do something profound and meaningful.
Austin went out fishing with his family Saturday morning.
The moment his sister lost her footing on a partially flooded dock on Peace River, Austin jumped in to keep her head above the strong current.
“She fell in the water and he didn’t even hesitate,” Barbie recalls.
Following the heavy rains from Hurricane Hermine, Peace River has spilled over its banks and the current is much faster than normal.
Austin managed to get his sister safely ashore, but he got swept down stream.
“I’ve never seen it so fast,” Barbie said of the current.
Search and rescue teams worked around the clock, hoping for a miracle, but it never came.
Dive teams found his body Sunday close to where his family last saw him.
“He’s a hero, that’s what he is. And he will always be a hero,” Barbie said.
The family is struggling on this holiday, staring at his skateboard that he cherished, and smiling at this happier memories playing football or hanging with his friends.
They’re trying to forget the worst day of their lives.
“Austin was a protector. He protected me from the time he could walk up until the other day,” Barbie said.
Austin’s family is planning a candlelight vigil in the near future to honor Austin and thank the people who tried to save his life.