Photo shows father seconds before he disappeared into Mississippi River trying to save son

MOLINE, Ill. — A photo of a father who is believed to have died while trying to save his 6-year-old son from drowning shows the two sitting on an Illinois dock just before the boy fell into the Mississippi River.

The image shows Malik Williams at Ben Butterworth Park in Moline, sitting on a green bucket at sunset with his fishing pole in the water, his young son to his left looking at the camera. Beyond the frame of the photo was his fiancée, the boy’s mother.

The 16-year-old passerby who took the picture, Riley Gomez, said she noticed seconds later that the boy was no longer on the dock.

“I saw the father jump in, and that’s when I dialed 911,” the East Moline teen told WQAD.

“Neither of them could swim,” Gomez said. “The fiancée was yelling, ‘Neither of them could swim!'” she said.

“He was panicked, as I saw him jump in the water he was trying to grab his son, but then, he was drowning,” Gomez said.

Von Thang, another passerby who heard screams and came to their aid, jumped into the water and managed to save the boy, but couldn’t get to his dad. Gomez, while onshore, helped pull the little boy out of the river.

On Wednesday morning, divers searched the river along Ben Butterworth Parkway in Moline, but were unable to find Williams’ body.

On the bank, several family members waited for word about the 25-year-old. His brother cried, still in shock. “He’s a hardworking, caring, loving family man,” said Tim Bell. “He didn’t know how to swim. He didn’t think twice. He was going to try to save his son.”

Williams and his fiancée had just had their second child two weeks ago.

Williams worked at Dick Blick in Galesburg. He had been a product of foster care, then adopted. He had vowed to make family a priority, and in the summer, often combined his love of family and fishing.

“He loved the outdoors, he loved fishing. He did it for fun, it gave him peace. It’s devastating. He’s my little brother. I wish I could go into that river and find him,” said Bell.

The 6-year-old boy is physically doing well, according to Bell, who added that the family is incredibly grateful for the strangers who helped save his nephew, especially Von Thang.

He said he views that last photo of his brother and nephew together as a true gift.

“It’s a miracle. That photo is everything now,” said Bell.

By Wednesday afternoon, police suspended recovery efforts.