Carnegie Medal to be bestowed on two heroes two years after tragic Kure Beach rip current incident

A New Hanover County teacher died two years ago trying to save two young girls in a rip current, now she's being recognized for the heroic act.
Published: Jul. 6, 2023 at 7:29 AM EDT
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KURE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - A tragic incident happened two years ago on a New Hanover County beach when a beloved teacher gave her life attempting to save two young sisters caught in a rip current.

Jessica Embry died in April of 2021 in the incident at Kure Beach. She was the director of Ashley High School’s orchestra, and her death impacted a large community.

Embry is now receiving widespread recognition for that act of heroism, and is set to receive the Carnegie Medal, considered North America’s highest civilian honor for heroism.

Paul Embry, Jessica’s brother, plans on accepting the award in her honor. Rayna Montgomery, a teenager from Virginia who also helped with the rescue, will receive the award as well.

Rennie Nourse, whose two sons were taught by Embry, says that while the award helps validate her heroic actions that day, it hasn’t been easy for friends and family these last two years. This is especially true for her son Bailey, who was close to Embry.

“This was very difficult for Bailey. Bailey and Miss Embry were really, really close. She was close with all of her students. She was funny, and sarcastic, and honest and open. They goofed around a lot. But they were very close because they both played the bass. So they just had a really close relationship and it was very, very difficult for him,” said Nourse.

Bailey bought Embry’s bass after she passed so he can always have a part of her with him.

“He has her bass up in his room and her stool, and nobody sits in it. It’s just a nice piece of her life that he will have forever,” said Embry.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission says that the Carnegie Medal is given throughout the U.S. and Canada to those who risk death or serious physical injury to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.

Nourse says this award is a true definition of Embry and is happy that she will forever be remembered for her heroism.

Ever since that day, however, she hasn’t been able to go back into the ocean.

“I haven’t been in the water like that since this happened. You know, my first initial thought was, why would she have done that? She would do that over and over again, knowing this could happen. That’s how she was, she would be the first to help somebody. She was so strong in her faith. She was a hero,” said Nourse.

The award foundation said that they heard about her heroic act in news outlets and that only 10% of people who died in similar selfless acts have been given this award.

To learn more about the Carnegie Medal, you can find that information here.