SPI shark attacks conjure dark memories for family of 1962 victim

Daughter of victim: 'If you don’t see them, you don’t know they’re there.'

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A view of the Gulf of Mexico coastline along Isla Blanca Park on Thursday, June 6, 2024, in South Padre Island. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND – The shark attacks on South Padre Island have surprised, angered and terrified many people.

The shark attacks, as many as four, took place Thursday and have caused a great deal of confusion and bewilderment.

And for Regina Bell and her sister Raena Jennings, the attacks have stirred dark memories of the attack on the Island which killed their father, Hans Fix, in 1962.

“I have a tremendous fear of the Gulf,” said Bell, now 76. “I do not go swimming in the Gulf. Maybe ankle deep if anything at all.”

Bell was 14 years old that Sunday morning when her father, a machinist, was attacked by a shark. Her sister Raena was 3 years old and has been speaking on the incident since the attacks Thursday on the Island.

The attacks on Thursday most likely triggered dark emotions and in those moments it is a natural tendency to begin speaking on the memory. Online she began posting about the attacks and recalling what she remembers about the attack on her father. Many of her friends, some of whom she has known for many years, have expressed surprise because they knew nothing about her father’s story.

Bell recalled the day’s events with great clarity from direct memory. She and her twin brother and sister were on inflatable rafts while her father fished in waist-deep water. Some media accounts and sources have said he was a cotton gin worker — he wasn’t — and that he had a stringer of fish tied to his waist. That is also false.

“There was a lot of stuff going on that the media does not know,” she said. “I should publish a book about it.”

Here’s what actually did happen, based on her memory.

Her father, Hans Fix, age 46, had walked out to the second sandbar, which was possible because the tide was out. So there on the second sandbar he was fishing in waist-deep water. When the tide moved back in, he moved closer to the shore.

Hans Fix’s 1952 passport picture is seen in this image provided by his family. (Courtesy Photo)

“He was not that far out at all,” Bell remembered. “It was probably a little farther out than where we saw that shark on the beach.”

That “shark on the beach” is the one her daughter and granddaughter filmed on the Island on Thursday.

Yes, 60 years later Hans Fix’s family was on the same beach observing — and this time filming — another shark attack. One of the victims has lost most of the calf on one of her legs. Bell says the video shows the shark a dangerous 30 feet from shore.

Bell said that sharks do come in regularly to feed between the sandbar.

“If you don’t see them, you don’t know they’re there,” Bell said.

Cameron County Marine Extension Agent Tony Reisinger has been making numerous social media posts, and noting the shark is most likely a bull shark.

“Sharks, especially bulls, swim close to shore in the shallows. Lots of mullet are now in the surf too,” he said via social media.

Other comments suggested the sharks are being pushed in by the approaching storms.

Still, no one has recalled this many shark attacks in one day, storm or no storm.

Bell recalled some news reports stating the shark which attacked her father Hans Fix tore off both of his legs. This is also false.

The shark severely mangled one leg. An ambulance did in fact pick him up and transported him to a doctor’s office. The ambulance got stuck once in the sand and a small crowd of people managed to get the vehicle free. It then ran out of gas about a block from the doctor’s office, so he had to be taken by stretcher to the doctor’s office.

From there, another ambulance transported him to Mercy Hospital in Brownsville where he died of blood loss.

“I’ve tried to tell people for many years, ‘Be careful there are sharks out there and they say, Nah nah nah.’”

“My father was killed by a shark,” she tells them, and they dismiss it as an exaggerated story that someone is just making up.

There is no exaggerating of the shark attacks Thursday. Photos and videos of a shark and the victims prove that.