Officials had been searching for 33-year-old Brandy Mosley who went missing Monday afternoon on Bolivar.
The Galveston County Sheriff's Office found Mosley's body Tuesday morning.
Mosley went into the water to help her 4-year-old child who was having trouble swimming, officials said.
Her toddler was wearing water wings and playing on the sand at the edge of the gulf. A wave carried him into the water.
Mosley and another family member rushed to save him. The child and the relative made it to the shore, but Mosley was nowhere to be found.
"What's really sad is seeing the rescue plane going back and forth," said witness Laura Blackburn. "Looking and looking. We all looked for an hour or two, a couple of hours just looking for her."
Blackburn said the water was rougher Monday than it had been. Like Mosley, who was visiting from Palestine, Blackburn is a visitor here.
Residents said the currents are deceptively dangerous.
"They just don't understand how dangerous it is to these people out here," said Ann Lawrence, who lives in Bolivar. "A lot of them are out-of-town vacationers. They just don't understand how bad it is out here."
"We surf fish this every day," added Tim Isaacs. "We know when it's good and when it's dangerous."
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