CUTLER BAY, Fla. – A South Florida teacher died a hero over the weekend while saving her son from drowning in El Salvador.
Michelle Vargas was a special needs teacher for the past 18 years, and for the past nine years, she worked at Cutler Bay Middle School as a special needs teacher.
Relatives, staff members, parents and students are devastated after learning of the sudden loss.
“We feel very bad and confused,” parent Maylin Hilton said. “She was a good teacher. She was a good person and all the kids love her.”
Local 10 News learned that Vargas was in El Salvador over the weekend, celebrating her birthday with her son who has autism.
Unfortunately, it was during a trip to the beach that her son wandered into a rip current.
Vargas jumped in to save him, and while she was able to rescue her son, she sadly lost her life in the process.
Cutler Bay Middle School’s principal said Vargas was an amazing instructor, but she was an even more amazing mother.
“Michelle gave up her life for her son,” Ignacio Rodriguez said.
A statement from Miami-Dade Public Schools read, “We are devastated to learn about the tragic loss of a beloved and respected teacher who has impacted the lives of Cutler Bay Middle School students for nearly a decade. From all of us at Miami-Dade County Public Schools, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the Vargas family during this difficult time.”
“Michelle Vargas was an amazing teacher,” Rodriguez said. “She was an advocate for children, she was a special ed teacher who worked with the most needy students and she had this ability to connect with students.”
Another colleague, teacher Andres Rodriguez, said Vargas’ heroism doesn’t surprise him.
“It doesn’t surprise me the way that she left us, saving her son, because she would do that a thousand times over if she could,” he said.
A GoFundMe page has been created to bring Vargas’ body back to the U.S. from El Salvador, as well as to help with funeral costs and to help care for her son.
According to the GoFundMe page, Vargas died on her birthday, Saturday.