Brandyn Jarell Mitchell enjoyed receiving gifts.
Especially in December when he celebrated his birthday three days before Christmas.
"He was never shy insisting he get two gifts, one birthday, one Christmas," said Mitchell's fiancée, Angelia Herrera. "He had no problems shining as bright as he did."
But on Saturday, Mitchell gave the most precious gift — his life — to save his soon-to-be stepdaughter, 6-year-old Keira Herrera.
At about 1 p.m., Brandyn dove into Lake Ray Roberts to help Keira get back onto a flotation device.
"He was already on the float with her (Keira) when she was struggling to hang on," Herrera said. "He helped her, told her not to let go, then slipped."
She managed to stay afloat near the beach at Isle du Bois but Mitchell never resurfaced, said Steve Lightfoot of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Relatives called for help and a dive rescue team from the Lewisville Fire Department found Mitchell’s body at 4:33 p.m. Mitchell, a resident of Valley View about 20 miles north of Denton, was 25.
Mitchell's heroics at the lake were not uncommon, according to those who knew him, Herrera said.
"He was in the process of enrolling in college to become a firefighter. He wanted to be a firefighter because he wanted to save lives. Running in when everyone is running out. He wanted to be a hero, not just once but every chance he could," Herrera said. "Shortly put, he was an amazing man and I am lucky to have known him."
His mother, 43-year-old Stacy Thompson, said Mitchell was originally from West Memphis, Arkansas, and served in the Tennessee Army National Guard for six years after high school.
"Being in the Army and all that, he could swim like a fish. That's why I can't understand what happened," Thompson said Sunday night on the phone while driving to North Texas from Arkansas. "He played football when he was in high school. He was a big Dallas Cowboys fan."
She said he was always high-spirited.
"When he was around you everybody had a good time," Thompson said. "He very seldom got mad. Things you think would make somebody upset he'd just brush off like, 'Whatever.'"
Herrera said Mitchell was the type who could make friends with anyone and also make everyone laugh.
Before heading to Ray Roberts Lake State Park on Saturday, the pair had set a date to be married, Herrera said. A little more than a year earlier they gave birth to their 1-year-old son, Bryson, and had combined their separate families, her daughter Keira and his two children, Paris and Trenton Mitchell.
She said Mitchell was excited to be planning their honeymoon in Italy.
"We were to be married next year. It was a surprise to our family we had not yet revealed," Herrera said. "His dream was to travel around the world. We often dreamed of a honeymoon exploring Europe. He really just wanted to see the world through his own eyes, not just a picture."
Thompson said Mitchell's experience in the Army sparked his interest in travel.
"We didn't travel much when he was growing up, so getting in the Army, that gave him the opportunity to go places," she said. "They had him all kind of places. He used to look forward to getting deployed and that used to scare me to death. But he wanted that."
Herrera noted Mitchell's close relationship with Keira.
While his primary job was at NIC Global, a manufacturing facility in Denton where he recently was awarded employee of the month, he spent a lot of his spare time with Keira helping coach her neighborhood basketball team.
"He was an amazing father," said Herrera. "He was loved and will be missed. No matter what, he was a hero."
Thompson said relatives and friends of Mitchell will be conducting a candlelight vigil in his honor at 100 P W 4137 in Pilot Point at 6 p.m. Monday.