updated 04/30/2014 AT 7:00 AM ET
•originally published 04/30/2014 AT 2:15 PM ET
University of Alabama swimmer John Servati was killed by a tornado Monday night – but not before saving the life of his girlfriend, friends say.
“John Servati died a hero,” fellow swimmer Anna Rae Gwarjanski Tweeted Tuesday. “Held up a concrete wall long enough for his girlfriend to get out from under it before it collapsed again on him.”
Officials would only say Servati, 21, of Tupelo, Miss., died after a retaining wall collapsed in his home in Tuscaloosa.
“I understand that he was in a house off-campus and was hit by a retaining wall,” school spokesman Shane Dorrill told ESPN. “I don’t know how it happened. I do know he was with his girlfriend and she is uninjured.”
At least 35 people have died since tornadoes began sweeping through the Midwest and South Sunday.
Servati’s coach Dennis Pursley released a statement through the university.
“John Servati was an extraordinary young man of great character and warmth who had a tremendously giving spirit,” Pursley said. “He will forever be in our hearts and a part of the Crimson Tide legacy.”
Lucas Smith, his swimming coach at Tupelo High School, told Yahoo Sports that “he was just one of those golden children.”
Smith had coached Servati since he was 9 years old.
“He lived for the team,” Smith told Yahoo Sports. “He loved the team. That’s what drove him. He loved the team.”
While Gwarjanski later Tweeted that Servati’s family wanted privacy right now so no one would be talking, earlier she revealed what his mother said to their team Tuesday morning.
“John’s Mom told our team this morning he always wanted to be an Alabama swimmer, and he always wanted to be a hero,” she Tweeted. “He accomplished both.”
Other friends took to Twitter to remember him as well. Some posted his last Tweet – “Keep tupelo in your prayers.”
Wrote Braden Bishop, “Here’s proof he cared for others before himself.”
How am I just now seeing this? Look at John Servati’s final tweet. Here’s proof he cared for others before himself. pic.twitter.com/xQdAHWVzng
Braden Bishop (@tbradenbishop) April 29, 2014
The John Servati Memorial Scholarship Fund has been set up with the help of the Athletic Department and the Crimson Tide Foundation. If you would like to help us honor John’s memory, donations can be made by clicking here or by mail to the following address: John Servati Memorial Scholarship Fund University of Alabama Crimson Tide Foundation Box 870343 Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487