Belmar rip currents leave 13-year-old dead, 12-year-old cousin on life support

BELMAR, New Jersey (WABC) -- A somber prayer service was held in Belmar Friday afternoon for two young girls pulled from the rough currents of the ocean Thursday night.

One of the girls, a 13-year-old sixth-grader identified as Mitzi Hernandez, died. Her cousin, who is 12 and in fifth grade, remains on life support at Jersey Shore Medical Center.

"We had a tough night in Belmar tonight," Mayor Matt Doherty said.

The service was held for the victims Friday afternoon at St. Rose Catholic Church, as many search for answers into what went wrong.

The borough's lifeguards were to begin full-time staffing of the beaches Monday, once school let out for the summer and students were available to work as lifeguards, Doherty said. Several were on the beach Thursday, although they had left by the time the girls went into the water.

In the wake of the incident, however, Doherty said they will be on duty Friday.

The two girls had no adults with them, and the Coast Guard pulled them from the water around 6:30 p.m. after a search effort. They were found floating face down.

The victims are both students at Belmar Elementary School, where grief counselors were on hand Friday for the last day of classes.

"They're just sweet girls who are willing to help other children," Belmar schools Superintendent David R. Hallman said. "So it's just a difficult time right now."

The school just completed a water safety course last week, warning students about potential risks familiar to the popular seaside resort, the mayor said.

"Twelve-year-olds and 13-year-olds go to the beach in Belmar all the time," Doherty said. "It's why we live here."

Bouquets of flowers have been left on the boardwalk facing the beach where tragedy took place.
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