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'She's a hero': Rescuer says mom died saving her son from Niagara River

The people who loved Amanda Martin are searching for answers after she, her fiance and their five-year-old son ended up in the Niagara River on Friday. But the man who pulled her and her son from the water say she died trying to save her child.

Child's father was wanted for attempted murder before he was found dead

Friends have identified Amanda Martin, 29, as the woman who died after being pulled from the Niagara River on Friday evening. (Submitted by Maryann Beck)

The people who loved Amanda Martin are searching for answers after she, her fiance and their five-year-old son ended up in the Niagara River on Friday.

But the man who pulled the mother and child from the water in Fort Erie, Ont., says he knows one thing — the 29-year-old mother of two died saving the life of her son.

Martin lived for her children, said Maryann Beck, her best friend for nearly a decade. 

"[Amanda] was incredible. She was just a saint," Beck said, fighting back tears. "She was an amazing mom."

Martin's motherly care touched others in the community, said Gloria Gaudet, who went to high school with her.

"She was also a mentor to a lot of young women who are all broken over the loss of Amanda," Gaudet wrote in a Facebook message to CBC News. 

"She was so caring and we will never forget her smile or that laugh that could make the world smile."

But confusion still surrounds what led to Martin's death. 

Police say they were called to the river near Jarvis Street and Niagara Boulevard — about four kilometres from where the river meets Lake Erie — around 6:30 p.m. ET after witnesses reported three people were in the water and in distress.

A bystander managed to rescue a young boy and a woman, according to Niagara Regional Police spokesperson Stephanie Sabourin.

Friends say that woman was Martin. She was taken to hospital, where she died a day later. 

The child was taken to hospital, and survived.  

The third person, who police identified as 28-year-old Joshawa Raymond Douglas Brooks, was found dead on Saturday after a dive team combed the river. 

A memorial to Martin, including messages of love and stuffed animals has been created outside her home. (Submitted by Maryann Beck)

Investigators said Brooks was wanted for breach of probation and attempted murder which, Sabourin confirmed Monday, was "in relation to the child."

"There are still a number of questions as to what happened, what led up to the three being in the water," said Sabourin, adding the investigation remains open and anyone who witnessed what happened is asked to contact police.

"This is obviously a very tragic incident," she said.

Brooks had been released from jail that Friday, according to Beck. 

Running to the rescue

Bob Steckley is the bystander who rescued Martin and her son from the river.

On Friday he was at his home along the river when he noticed a woman running along the grass near the road. She looked scared. 

He and his wife went to see what was happening and heard someone screaming for help.

Steckely grabbed some life jackets he keeps in a closet, in case of emergencies, and ran down the steep, rocky shoreline. 

"I could see a young boy struggling in the water and something else in the water with him," he said. "I didn't realize it at the time, but it was his mother who was already unconscious."

He quickly pulled on a life jacket and swam out to the boy.

The panicked child clambered onto Steckley, who said the weight pushed him under. He pulled the boy off and encouraged him to swim for shore, but he was too scared.

"I had to actually swim, pushing him to shore while I pulled what turned out to be his mother, Amanda to shore."

After a difficult swim, Steckley managed to reach the edge of the water. Another man helped him start performing CPR on the woman.

There was no sign of anyone else in the water when Steckley reached the mother and child, he said. Later, he heard from witnesses how they apparently ended up in the river.

Forced underwater

Witnesses said they saw a man running into the water with a child in his arms. A woman was close behind and, when she got close to the pair, he let go and disappeared underwater.

"[A witness] said the last thing the mother said after she was struggling to get to shore was 'Get onto my back' and the little boy did. That forced her underwater. She ended up drowning," said Steckley.

"She gave up her life to save her son. She's a hero for that and needs to be recognized as such."

Steckley is struggling to come to terms with what happened.

"I'm having trouble dealing with the aftermath," he said. "The what-ifs. What if I had swam quicker? What if we had got home sooner?"

Martin's fiance, Joshawa Raymond Douglas Brooks, was found dead on Saturday. (Submitted by Gloria Gaudet)

Martin's loved ones are still trying to piece together what happened and say they're worried the deaths might mean they never learn the truth.

She and Brooks "had their fights," said Beck, who noted Brooks had a rough upbringing and mental health problems. But she said Martin loved him dearly and was always there for him. 

"Amanda said it was the love of her life," she said. "He was great with the kids."

A memorial, including messages of love, stuffed animals and candles has been created outside Martin's home.

The boy has been released from hospital and is being cared for by a family member, said Beck.