HOUSTON — At just 16 years old, a bright-smiled sophomore at Spring High School died the way he lived: selflessly.
Joseph Thomas was the youngest of four siblings. He died Sunday afternoon after saving a friend caught up in a rip current off Matagorda Beach.
His father, James Thomas, lovingly describes his son as a “mama’s boy” and “a Renaissance kid. He plays guitar, drums, keyboard, ukulele.”
A self-taught musician who was in his school’s choir, Joseph had good grades and cared about his friends.
“He had a big smile on his face all the time,” said Jamie Thomas, his sister. “and everyone knew him as the kid with the guitar. If you’re really happy, he’ll be really happy with you. If you’re really sad then...he has a lot of empathy.”
Empathy which stemmed in part to his own struggles. His father says that at 12 years old, Joseph was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but he used that struggle to help shape him for the better.
Thomas wants to world to know that about his son, because Joseph cared about other kids who faced challenges.
“Kids with special needs have a place in this society and they should be supported more than they have been,” Thomas said.
Thomas said his son would show that support to his peers, even playing his music for a special needs class during his 4th period.
“Joseph (would) spend time playing for them and connecting with that group," Thomas said.
Joseph dreamed of becoming a psychologist and professional musician. On Sunday, a trip to Matagorda Beach changed that. His friend and her mother got caught in a rip current.
“Joseph was able to throw the daughter out of the riptide, so she could get to safety but then the water swept him away," Thomas said.
Joseph's body was recovered Monday evening. Although this family is broken, their pride in their son will never be.
“I’m very proud of him...there is a young lady that’s living today because of what he did," Thomas said. "So I am very proud of my son. He has represented himself and he represented us well."
The U.S. Coast Guard is still looking for a 17-year-old swimmer who did not make it back to shore with his friends at Surfside Beach near Freeport Sunday night.
Surfside Police and the Coast Guard are continuing to warn beach-goers of strong rip currents and caution them to read warning signs before getting in the water.