John Burton and Teah

In early April, California oil painter John Burton saved a life. This is not a metaphor.

Burton was with his family near Carmel River Beach, but they were not swimming that day. “None of us were in bathing suits — just regular clothes — because we were not planning on going swimming,” say Burton. “I was farther behind my family because I was on crutches. I had torn my hamstring the week before. Then I heard the cry for help from her mom. I never saw Teah’s mom — I just started searching the water, but couldn’t see anything. After Teah was swept away, she was submerged the whole time. Stephanie [Travaille, Teah’s mom] and my wife said they saw her feet pop out once, but I never saw that. I felt prompted to swim towards a small dark patch under the water that turned out to be the hair on the top her head. When I reached under and pulled her up, the joy was immeasurable.”

An employee at On the Beach Surf Shop, Kelly Sorensen, “did a first-aid check” on Teah, according to Travaille, and a man named Pablo helped pull both Burton and Teah out of the surf. Later, the Travaille family visited Burton’s studio to thank him. Burton, rather characteristically, responded by giving. Travaille’s Facebook post tells the tale.

“One week ago today this man saved Teah’s life at the Carmel River Beach,” Travaille wrote. “He did not see her get swept out into the lagoon, only heard me cry out from across the beach and dropped his crutches — he is injured — and jumped into the deep water to start searching for a child. He later told us he did not know if the child was a tot or a teen. He did not even know where she had entered the water. He finally saw a dark patch under the water, which turned out to be her hair, and pulled her up.

“When we came to meet John Burton in his studio, we found that we could not have met a kinder or more humble person. So sincere and kind. And generous — he gave each of my girls a piece of art. Thank you John, you are truly amazing. … This experience was a miracle and I am so grateful. No words can ever say how grateful! So thankful Teah is alive today. So thankful to John Burton, our angel. So grateful to all of you who have sent your love to us.”

Burton’s only further comment was, “I felt God’s hand in every moment of that day.”


  1. This is a lovely testament to being led to act through faith alone, and trusting in that guidance. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

  2. I enjoyed John’s amazing guoache demo at PACE in San Diego. His energy, enthusiasm and positivity were contagious. So I’m not surprised to read of his heroism.

  3. Thank you for bringing us this story! We would not have known of John’s inspired bravery without your news.

    Kath Macaulay

  4. That is such an amazing gift that GOD has granted to you John. I can’t imagine how proud HE must be of you.


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