'He will always be my hero' - partner of man who died in Devon river pays tribute to soulmate

  • Watch Sam Blackledge's report here.

The partner of a man who died after rescuing his step-daughter from a river in Devon has described him as 'caring, loving and selfless'.

Reza Zolali drowned in the River Erme in Ivybridge.

A fundraising campaign has been launched to help his family, who say they miss him dearly.

Kaylie says Reza was a 'hero' for saving her daughter. Credit: ITV News

After coming to the UK in search of a better education, Reza met Kaylie McGrath and became a loving step-dad to her two daughters, and then father to little Jasmine, now aged 19 months.

Kaylie told ITV News: "All he ever wanted to do was provide for me and the girls. He always promised me the world, but I didn't need that because he was so kind and caring and loving.

"He was such a kind, caring person. He was helping out at the food bank, he went to church on Sundays, he was such a kind person who didn't deserve to die."

Tributes and flowers have been left at the riverside where Reza died. Credit: ITV News

Reza had taken the two older girls, Khloe, 9, and Amy, 11, to the woods near their home in Ivybridge.

It was a warm day, so they paddled in the river, as they had done many times before. But this time they went in too deep and tragedy struck.

Reza saved Khloe from the fast-flowing water, but he could not swim and was dragged under by the current.

Back at home looking after Jasmine, Kaylie heard the sound of ambulances heading towards the river.

"I knew at that point that something was really wrong," she said.

"So I got in the car and went up there but they wouldn't let me see him. I knew they were going to tell me, I felt him leave me. I screamed and screamed, I knew he had gone. I couldn't believe I wasn't allowed to go and hold his hand."

Reza came from Iran and was poised to become a British citizen. Credit: ITV News

Reza, aged 31, originally from Iran, was due to be granted his British citizenship this week.

He was excited about building a future with Kaylie, Jasmine, and step-daughters Khloe and Amy, both of whom live with autism and ADHD.

"No matter how much the special needs got in the way, he never left," Kaylie said. "To raise two autistic girls as your own, I can't even express how hard that is.

"I think his mum and dad need to be proud because they raised such an amazing man. So selfless. It just shows in the way that he passed, he was a hero from the day I met him, he was a hero raising my girls, he was a hero the way he went and he will remain a hero forever."

Reza's body may be returned to his parents in Iran. Credit: ITV News

Kaylie plans to return Reza's body to his family in Iran.

But at the moment she is still struggling to come to terms with what has happened and to explain to her girls why the man they all fell in love with is never coming back.

To donate to the family's funeral fund, click here.

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