A high school graduate rescued two of his friends off the coast of Ventnor, New Jersey, by swimming into a deadly rip current to push them to the safety of the shore. Tragically, he paid with his own life.
Jalan Alston, 18, was visiting the Jersey shore with his two friends on July 10 to celebrate his 2020 graduation from George Westinghouse High School in Brooklyn, New York. The trio decided to take an early evening swim, reports WPVI.
When Jayda Smith and Sierra Williams got caught in the rough waters brought in by Tropical Storm Fay, Jalan, a track and field competitor, rushed to their aid but got trapped in the rip current himself. Jayda called 911 from the shore and also tried to reach out to people on the beach for help. However, he never returned.
A 58-square-mile search over land and sea commenced, lasting 13 hours. Jalan’s body was recovered in Atlantic City 24 hours after he first went missing.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Jalan,” Captain Jonathan Theel, commander of Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay, said in a statement. “[I]t weighs especially heavy on our hearts knowing that he was helping others.”
In an account of the tragedy shared on Facebook by Jayda’s mother, the teen explained that she had met Jalan almost three years ago on an online gaming app. The two had connected so well that when they weren’t playing they would converse with each other on FaceTime. July 10 was the first time she had ever met Jalan in person.
“He is my best friend and he saved my life,” Jayda explained. “Months ago, I told him my biggest fear is drowning, and he did everything he could to make sure that wouldn’t happen to me.”
After pushing Jayda over the rolling wave she was trapped in, Jalan took her spot. Sierra tried to pull him out after that. “[T]hey both went under, and he knew what was happening,” Jayda wrote. “Sierra told me there was a break in the waves for a moment, and he shook his head at her … [he] used the rest of his strength to push her over, just like he did with me.”
In a Facebook post, Chief Douglas Biagi of the Ventnor City Police Department expressed gratitude for the search team’s efforts as well as sincere condolences to Jalan’s family and friends.
“To everyone who witnessed the events that unfolded on the beaches of Ventnor Friday evening, I thank you,” Biagi wrote. “You observed, you listened and prayed as we all went through this tragedy together. You allowed the first responders to do their job.”
“The family of Jalan Alston has some closure with his recovery and with that we need to start healing as a community and do our best to see this never happens again,” the chief signed off.
Jalan’s older brother, Mark, told WPVI that the brave teen will always be remembered for being strong and selfless.
“[H]e always looked out for me the same way I looked out for him,” Mark reflected. “He was pure of love … He was never combative and treated everyone fairly and equally. He is courageous and one of the smartest kids I know.”
Mark further continued that he hopes his brother watches over him and continues to feel the love he had for him, adding that his brother will “never be forgotten.”
According to his friends, Jalan had pointed out a car decal to Jayda and Sierra on their way to the beach that read, “After every storm is a beautiful rainbow.”
“This gave more significance to the double rainbows we all saw together as soon as we got to the beach that day,” Jayda reflected on Facebook, “and every rainbow I will see forever.”
During the coast guard’s initial search for Jalan, Jayda recalled looking up from her spot on the beach to see the first of many rainbows that will forever remind her of the best friend who saved her life.
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