Sgt. Eddison Hermond spent the final moments of his life trying to rescue a woman from raging floodwaters.
Two days after he disappeared underwater, authorities found his body in a river near Ellicott City, Maryland.
"We are overcome with grief, but we are also comforted by his courage, his strength, and his selflessness to help someone else in a deadly storm," his family said in a statement.
"This is a very trying time for the Hermond, Cooper and extended family, but the thoughtful gestures of so many have given us strength."
The Army National Guardsman's family thanked the many people who helped in the search, including the National Guard and "and all the wonderful people we met that did not know him who searched for him. We thank God for you!"
Col. Charles Kohler from the Maryland Army National Guard released the family's statement Tuesday night. He asked the media and public to "please respect their request for privacy at this most difficult time."
Guardsman left a party to help
Hermond, 39, was enjoying a birthday party at a Mexican restaurant when flash flooding swept through downtown Ellicott City, said Sarah Lopez, whose husband had served with Hermond in the Air Force.
All three were at the party when Hermond noticed a woman trapped by the floodwaters nearby. He bolted from the restaurant to try to save her.
According to a police report, witnesses reported that "Hermond was attempting to help a woman who had escaped through a window with her cat, when he became swept up in the rushing water."
Howard County Police Chief Gary Gardner said witnesses "saw him go under the water and not surface."
A legacy of service
Hermond joined the Air Force in 1996 and served 10 years as an airman, Col. Kohler said. The Maryland native joined the Army National Guard in 2009.
Gov. Larry Hogan ordered state flags to fly at half-staff in Hermond's honor. "His service to our country, state and local community will not soon be forgotten," Hogan said. "Flags will return to full staff sunset of the day he is laid to rest."
While loved ones and strangers mourn Hermond's death, Ellicott City is slowly trying to recover from the mammoth flooding. The town, which was also inundated in 2016, was engulfed again Sunday when heavy rain bloated the Patapsco River to a record level.
"There are a lot of people whose lives are going to be devastated again, and they've been working so hard to come back," Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman said. "I can't imagine what they're going through. I couldn't imagine what they went through two years ago, and now it's even worse."
Emergency responders conducted 300 rescues, about 30 of them water rescues. A major water main broke, and the flooding washed out a sewer line.
Residents and business owners have been allowed to return to the hardest-hit areas to collect their personal belongings, but it's unclear how many will try to rebuild there.