Ten-year-old Hayley Whiting and her family splashed along the shore as they enjoyed the last day of their vacation.
She was playing in the waves when her mom asked her to come closer to shore. But the girl got caught in a riptide and was quickly being pulled deeper out to sea.
Her mother Samantha tried swimming out to save her daughter.
"I was thinking this is not happening. There's no way I'm being pulled out. I was terrified," Whitling said.
Nearby, Kevin Cozzi and his fiancée heard the screaming.
He quickly jumped into action.
"I've been swimming since I was three years old competitively, so I felt like I could get to them. I ran out there and as soon as I got to the mom, I knew she was struggling," Cozzi said.
HERO: A Texas family is wanting to give back to the Merced man they say saved their 10 year old's life.Haylee Whiting was swimming with her family in Monterey when she was caught in a rip tide. Kevin Cozzi sprang into action.The story you'll only see on Action News at 11 @ABC30 pic.twitter.com/S8XXJYErqx— Nathalie Granda (@NathalieABC30) October 29, 2020
Cozzi was able to reach Haylee and brought her closer to shore until a lifeguard jumped in.
Months went by, and Samantha only knew Cozzi's first name. However, she never stopped looking for the heroic bystander.
Earlier this week, she posted about the rescue in a Facebook group called Merced Neighborhood Watch, and within hours they reconnected.
Samantha is now working to raise money to give Cozzi and his fiancé their dream wedding since they had to cancel theirs because of COVID-19.
Samantha and Haylee are grateful for Cozzi and plan to thank him again in person as they attend his wedding next fall.
Samantha set up a GoFundMe account to help Cozzi.