MANISTEE, Mich. - A Michigan mother is being praised for her quick-thinking and heroic actions after saving a group of girls from drowning in Lake Michigan.
Alyssa DeWitt, who is five months pregnant with her fourth child, packed up her three young children on May 25 and visited First Street Beach in the city of Manistee. It was "really windy" that day, and DeWitt said she had contemplated staying home, "but I really, really felt like I needed to go."
When the family arrived at the beach, DeWitt said there are two halves visitors can spend time at — and the family opted to hang out on the right side where the pier is located.
"I’ve always taken them to the left, so I’m not sure why I chose that side that day. And I don’t really think it was a coincidence that I did," she said.
Alyssa DeWitt is pictured in a provided photo, alongside a picture of the pier at First Street Beach where the water rescue occurred in Manistee, Michigan. (Photo credit: Alyssa DeWitt)
With the winds howling, the waves were big that day. DeWitt said she had noticed the group of girls get into the lake and slowly watched them move farther out into the water.
"The next thing I knew the arms were waving in the water, so I kind of knew immediately that they were in trouble," she said.
DeWitt quickly jumped into action, pulling her own children — ages 6, 3 and 2 — out of the water and telling them to stay on the sand and to wait there. She then ran to the edge of the pier near where the girls were struggling and called 911, but the high winds made it difficult for the dispatcher to hear her. No one else was on that side of the beach.
"When I got to the edge where they were, they could barely keep their heads above the water at that point. So I knew right away if I don’t do something these kids are going to drown," DeWitt explained.
With 911 still on the line, she set her phone down and laid on her stomach along the edge of the pier to try and pull the three girls up to safety.
"There were a couple of times where I had gotten them partway up, and the waves would come and they would smash into us and pull them back down and we’d have to start all over."
One of the girls struggling to stay above the water looked up and told her, "I’m going to die." DeWitt said that moment — and seeing the fear in the child’s eyes — is something that will live with her forever.
"I just kicked it right into mama bear mode," she recalled. "I looked at her and said, ‘I’m not going to let you die. I’m going to get you out of this water, I promise.’"
Eventually, her "super strength" kicked in — and she was able to pull all three girls over the pier wall. A fourth girl was able to make her way in enough so that DeWitt could help her out of the water from the shore.
Emergency crews arrived as soon as the group made it onto the sand. The girls suffered minor injuries, mainly scrapes and bruises. DeWitt said she and her unborn baby were also checked out and are doing okay.
She said she was also grateful that her three young children, who waited on the beach during the terrifying ordeal, also stayed safe.
"At the end of the pier watching, my 2-year-old was pretty freaked out and he kept trying to run out onto the pier to me," DeWitt said. "My 6-year-old would just pick him up and take him back to the sand for me. She stayed really calm. I was super proud of her."
Hours after the rescue, DeWitt shared an emotional post on Facebook recounting the experience. The post has been shared hundreds of times and received several comments from both friends and strangers praising her actions.
"You are amazing!! I live in South Haven and water safety is such a major issue here. I have goosebumps after reading your story. Thank you!!" one person commented.
"Mama! Our bodies and their systems were crafted so perfectly that their power is awe-inspiring. I truly believe that sometimes a crisis that seems impossible to overcome is rectified purely because the survivors involved couldn’t handle seeing it end badly," another shared in part.
A week later, DeWitt said the enormity of the situation has started to sink in after thinking about "all the different ways that it could have gone," including if she too had gotten pulled over the edge into the water with her kids still on the beach — one of many scenarios that are "terrifying" to think about.
She encouraged parents to stress water safety to their children in an effort to prevent any future incidents or tragedies.
"I know those big waves are fun.. and you never expect to find yourself in that situation.. but it can happen so fast," DeWitt wrote in the post. "It’s not worth the risk, it’s just not."
"God did his thing today, and he put me exactly where I needed to be, once again... I’m loving my babies a little harder tonight, I’m sure those parents are too. God is good," she concluded.
This story was reported from Cincinnati.