BELMAR — Community members have raised more than $55,000 in less than two days for the families of a young girl who drowned and died in the strong surf Thursday, and another who remains on life support.

A 12-year-old remained on life support Saturday after she was pulled from the strong surf off Belmar between 9th and 11th Avenues on Thursday night. A second girl, identified as her 13-year-old cousin, Mitzi Hernandez, died at Jersey Shore Medical Center.

"What an amazing outpouring of support," Colleen Connolly wrote on a GoFundMe page for the two girls' families Saturday night. She'd started the page the day before.

The GoFundMe itself had raised $37,074 of an originally stated $20,000 goal as of early Sunday evening. In addition, Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty told New Jersey 101.5 this weekend $20,000 from his upcoming mayor's ball would be donated.

The two girls — cousins who both attended Belmar Elementary School — were pulled from the ocean Thursday evening between 9th and 11th Avenues. The surviving girl is 12 years old, a fifth-grade student. Mitzi was in the sixth grade.

The beach had been unguarded at the time — lifeguards in Belmar start weekday duty the day after classes end for the summer.


“This is a close-knit school in a small town, so the feeling of loss is impactful and meaningful,” Dougherty said on Friday. “As a parent, I cannot even begin to imagine the death of a child. And as the mayor, there is no worse news to have to report than the loss of a child in our town.”

In Atlantic City, emergency personnel continued searching this weekend for two teenagers who went missing off a beach there the same night, the Press of Atlantic City reported. Like the Belmar girls, Kaliy-ah Hand, 16, of Atlantic City, and Ramon Quinn, 15, of Pleasantville had been pulled into the water by strong surf. Their bodies have not yet been recovered.

Both Saturday and Sunday of this week, the National Weather Service warned of a high risk of rip currents — such advisories are also included in meteorologist Dan Zarrow's daily Jersey Shore Report.

"These high-risk days only happen a couple times a year (if that), so please take it seriously,” New Jersey 101.5 Meteorologist Dan Zarrow said earlier this weekend. New Jersey beaches also warn against swimming when lifeguards are not on duty.

The National Weather Service says you can spot a potential rip current by watching for these factors:

  • Channel of churning, choppy water
  • Area having a notable difference in water color
  • Line of foam, seaweed, or debris moving steadily seaward
  • Break in the incoming wave pattern
  • One, all or none the clues may be visible.

If you find yourself caught in a rip current, the NWS has some advice to follow:

  • Don’t fight the current. It’s a natural treadmill that travels an average speed of 1-2 feet per second, but has been measured as fast as 8 feet per second—faster than an Olympic swimmer.
  • Relax and float to conserve energy. Staying calm may save your life.
  • Do NOT try to swim directly into to shore. Swim parallel to the shoreline until you escape the current’s pull. When free from the pull of the current, swim at an angle away from the current toward shore.
  • If you feel you can’t reach shore, relax, face the shore, and call or wave for help. Remember: Wave and yell; swim parallel to the beach.

— With prior reporting by Dan Alexander and Sergio Bichao

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