Bitten by a shark while swimming off the coast of South Carolina Sunday, a 10-year-old boy is recovering at home from what his family described as the “serious” and “frightening” experience.
Jei Turrell was playing in waist-deep water off Hilton Head when the shark attacked his right forearm. In a "Today" show interview aired Thursday, Jei said the animal is believed to have been a 4- to 5-foot blacktip shark.
His mother, Tonya Turrell, recalled that “Jei came running out of the water screaming, 'Shark, shark.'” While she initially thought her son was “crying wolf,” Tonya was soon able to see Jei was telling the truth.
“I saw blood dripping off of his arm, and I realized he wasn’t messing around,” she said.
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Tonya Turrell said she “knew it was serious” after a helicopter transported Jei to a Savannah hospital about 40 miles away. There he underwent two hours of surgery.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything as frightening,” said the mother, who had sent out a call on Facebook for prayers for Jei. “Your thoughts get away from you, and I felt like I was going crazy.
Jei remembered seeing his mother "trying to hide" her fear, "but I could feel her getting scared."
With his arteries intact and no serious nerve damage, Jei pulled through. And he was sure to thank everyone who helped him get better at the hospital.
“Even when you’re bit by a shark you still gotta be polite,” he said.
Back at home, Tonya Turrell laughed as she said she’s going to be even more cautious with her son going forward.
“You thought I was over-protective before?” she said to Jei. “It’s gonna get way worse.”
Jei’s Sunday afternoon attack was the first reported shark bite of 2018 on Hilton Head Island, according to Hilton Head Island Shore Beach Service. In 2017, there were 10 confirmed shark attacks in South Carolina. Of those, eight were on Hilton Head Island.
There have also been recent, frequent water evacuations in the Hilton Head Island area. The evacuations happen almost daily during the summer season for shark sightings or lightning strikes, though most are to bring in swimmers venturing too far out, according to the beach service.
Several days before Jei was bitten, there were evacuations in the late morning and early afternoon after a shark was spotted swimming back and forth in shallow water in the area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.