Rescue crews saved 17-year-old James Burdette at High Falls State Park Tuesday afternoon after a tragic accident that killed his younger brother, 12-year-old Christian Burdette.
James spoke with WMAZ on Wednesday to share his memories of what happened and how his life is now forever changed.
Burdette says he and his brother Christian swam regularly at the falls. They never thought Tuesday would be any different.
He says Christian stepped into the water to swim, but there was a drop off that he couldn’t see and a whirlpool sucked him down. He grabbed Christian’s arm.
“He just said ‘I'm about to die’ like in the calmest way like nothing was going on. He just knew he was going to die and I said no you ain't and I really hate that I couldn't keep that word to him,” said Burdette.
The water knocked the boys down and when James came back up to the surface, his brother was gone.
He says he held onto a rock for almost four hours slowly losing hope.
“I'm thinking good Lord, don't let a log come down and hit me because other than that I'm done and I'm already thinking [about] my little brother… I didn't know what to do,” said Burdette.
It’s a nightmare James says he can’t wake up from.
“Where's my buddy at? Just waking up this morning and walking in his room and seeing he's not there, it just rips me apart,” said Burdette.
He sat and watched old home movies, crying as he heard his brother’s voice.
Their father Warren Burdette says he knows his angel is in a better place, even if the pain is overwhelming.
“I'm thankful he didn't take my sweet baby James too at the same time because I don't think I could've carried that load,” said Warren.
Warren says he’s always been protective of his little boy and recalls the last moment he saw Christian.
“He hugged me for a really extra-long time and he said ‘I love you daddy,’ and I said ‘I love you too.’ I said ‘I don't let nobody mess with you do I’ and he said no,” said Warren.
Walking outside their home, you can see Christian’s presence. Riding his dirt bikes and fixing up anything with an engine was his passion.
“I mean he had no fear, he would hold it down and just go at it,” said James.
James says if there weren’t dirt bikes in Heaven before, there are now.
James says although Christian may be gone physically, the impact he's made on the people around him will live on forever in their hearts.
Warren Burdette says they have no insurance so they’ve created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the funeral. You can donate here.