'He was struggling:' Man visiting from Mississippi drowned helping 2 children at McKinley Beach

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office and family on Sunday, July 19 identified a 19-year-old man who drowned in Lake Michigan Saturday night while trying to save two children. Family said Jvarius Bankhead was in town from Mississippi to visit his father, and a trip to the beach turned tragic.

On a beautiful, sunny, summer Sunday afternoon, the relatively calm lake waters made for a far different scene than nearly 24 hours earlier, when sheriff's officials said Bankhead and two family members were wading at McKinley Beach around 8:30 p.m. The large waves were making it difficult for the kids to get to shore, so Bankhead waded out to help -- getting one to shore before being pulled under himself.

Jvarius Bankhead


Samantha and Izayiah Genett

"They were right there by the rocks, but he was kind of in the middle a little bit, and she was more in," said Samantha Genett. "He was already to the drop (off), so he was already struggling."

Genett and her 13-year-old son, Izayiah, were at the beach Saturday evening. Izayiah said he also went into the water to try to help get the kids to shore. The second child was able to make it back safely. Genett said she was heartbroken to learn Bankhead never did.

"It did, big time because it could have been any of our kids -- any of them," said Genett.

Family in Mississippi said Bankhead was loving, caring and a jokester, and loved football and running track.

Saturday's incident marked the 26th Milwaukee Fire Department dive response in 2020, compared with 25 total in 2019. Even strong swimmers can fall victim -- with MFD urging people to enjoy the water and warm weather, but play it safe -- advice Genett echoed.

"If you're going to be out here, watch your kids," said Genett. "Don't take your eyes off of them for even a second because anything could happen in a split second."

MFD officials said if you do find yourself in trouble, it's important not to panic, as you will tire yourself. You should try to get someone's attention, and do your best to stay afloat. Witnesses also play an important role -- so you should take note of your surroundings and where the person was last seen afloat so you can help rescuers in the search.