INTERVIEWS

Daughter's drowning death inspires W.Va. natives to spread awareness about rip currents

by LAUREN TALOTTA

Tuesday, July 9th 2019

 

Paige Merical was just a few months shy of her 18th birthday when she drowned in a rip current at Emerald Isle.

 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) — A couple originally from West Virginia is speaking out after their daughter's drowning death earlier this year.

John and Suzi Merical said their daughter, Paige, was a strong swimmer but got caught in a rip current off the coast of North Carolina. Now, they are on a mission to save lives through an educational campaign.

Sunday, July 7, would have been Paige Merical’s 18th birthday.

"We all sat around and shared stories," Suzi Merical said. "It was sad, but I really enjoy hearing stories about Paige. It makes me feel close to her.”

John Merical said his daughter had an app in her phone that was a countdown to 18.

"She was smart, beautiful and talented,” he said.

Originally from Kanawha County, the couple, who lives in Raleigh, said their daughter was their world.

"We never made a decision without wondering what Paige would want to do,” Suzi said.

But on April 19 of this year, they received a phone call that changed everything.

"A woman was crying and said they had just pulled Paige from the surf,” Suzi said.

Paige and her friend got caught in a rip current at Emerald Isle.

"The water was below their knees, and swept them out to sea . . . that should give you an idea of how powerful this was,” John said.

Her friend's body was recovered that day. Paige died eight days later at a Raleigh-area hospital. It was at that moment the Mericals embarked on a mission - to spread awareness and save lives. Their campaign Don't Fight the Rip educates beachgoers on what they should do if they get caught in a rip current. Their message - float don't fight.

"We had told Paige to swim parallel, which is what everyone was told to do. New data proves just floating, relaxing, let the current carry you out."

It's a lifelong mission with a purpose - the Mericals fighting on for their little miracle.

“She was a really cool kid. We were just really lucky,” her father said.

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