3 Alabama fathers die after being caught in Gulf rip current

Red flag

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — Three Alabama fathers died on Friday in the Gulf of Mexico after they were caught in a rip current at a Florida Panhandle beach, authorities said.

According to a news release posted to Facebook by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, the victims were identified as Harold Denzel Hunter, 25; Jemonda Ray, 24; and Marius Richardson, 24. All three men were from Birmingham, the sheriff’s office said.

Ray and Richardson were cousins and Hunter was a friend, according to

The sheriff’s office said that an emergency call at about 8 p.m. CDT led deputies to a section of Panama City Beach behind the Watercrest Condominiums, the Panama City News Herald reported.

The men were part of a group who arrived in Panama City to stay at an Airbnb, reported.

“They checked into their rental and rushed out to get in the water,’’ Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford wrote on Facebook.

The men were in chest-high water when they were swept away. They were eventually pulled from the dark waters and were taken to an area hospital, where they died, according to

Ray was the father of a toddler son, according to the news outlet. Richardson is survived by his wife and a 2-year-old son. Hunter was the father of a young son and daughter.

Richardson’s mother, Iris Richardson, said she was heartbroken.

“I called him ‘Dad,’ because he acted like my dad,’’ Iris Richardson told “He kept everybody with smiles on his face. He was the sweetest person.”

“I just wish the outcome was better than what it is,” Jayla Ray, whose brother Jemonda was among the three killed, told the news outlet. “I’m just glad they were found and they’re able to come home.”

Single red flags were flying Saturday morning, indicating high surf and/or strong currents, the News Herald reported. Shortly after 3 a.m. CDT on Saturday, the National Weather Service issued a statement, noting that dangerous rip currents were expected on Panhandle beaches in Bay, Walton, Gulf and Franklin counties through 4 a.m. CDT on Monday, according to the newspaper.

It was the second time in two days that beachgoers in Florida died from rip currents. Thursday on the state’s east coast, two people from Pennsylvania died when they were swept away at Stuart Beach in Martin County. Their two children were also caught in the current but managed to break free, according to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office.

Rip currents are powerful, concentrated channels of water flowing quickly away from shore, the News Herald reported. Most are found at low spots or breaks in a sandbar and form when incoming waves create an underwater sandbar, according to the newspaper.

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