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Search continues for missing Americans after alleged yacht hijacking in the Caribbean, but a violent scene suggests the worst, family says

(CNN) — Police in the Caribbean are investigating the disappearance of an American couple after escaped inmates in Grenada allegedly hijacked their yacht. Now, their family is bracing for the possibility “they aren’t with us” after the violent scene suggests they may have been killed, but still hope they’ll be found alive.
The Virginia couple, identified by their sailing club as Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry, were living out a long-held dream of cruising the Caribbean in their sailing yacht, Simplicity. But the vessel was found abandoned Wednesday off the coast of St. Vincent with the husband and wife nowhere to be found, according to the club, the Salty Dawg Sailing Association.
Police in Grenada have yet to identify the couple but said a trio of prisoners have been recaptured after their February 18 escape. Evidence suggests they may have killed the American occupants of a yacht they allegedly hijacked in St. George to flee to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, another island country that is around 80 miles away, the Royal Grenada Police Force said in a statement.
Brandel’s son, Nick Buro, said he still hopes the couple will be found on a Caribbean island.
“The boat itself was ransacked and everything was strewn about in the entire cabin, so clearly there was an altercation of some type that took place on the boat,” Buro told CNN Sunday. “We are concerned for their safety overall because it does appear that they were likely injured.”
Wednesday, the day the abandoned boat was discovered, was Kathy’s 71st birthday, Buro said. March 2, will be Ralph’s 67th birthday, his son Bryan Hendry told CNN.
Buro said his mother and stepfather were veteran boaters who had been planning the trip – their first cruise of the Caribbean – for years.
“They were super careful to be safe all the time,” Buro said. “Everywhere they went everything they did, safety was their top, top concern. So this unfortunate accident, I think, it came out of nowhere for them.”
The couple sold their home and bought Simplicity years ago, throwing themselves into an enthralling life on the water, he said.
“It was their home. Everything they had, they owned, was on that boat. It was their life,” he said. “Kathy worked her whole life and then retired. Ralph worked in financial services and continued to work from the boat. But really what they did was … choose a lifestyle that most of us would never imagine could be done. And they loved every minute of it and they saw many parts of the world and just lived a life of joy and love.”
The suspects in the hijacking – Ron Mitchell, 30; Trevon Robertson, 19; and Abita Stanislaus, 25 – were cooperating with investigators, Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force Superintendent Junior O. Simmons said. Prior to the escape, all three had been charged on suspicion of robbery with violence and Mitchell faced other charges, including rape and indecent assault, the Royal Grenada Police Force said.
The US State Department said Friday it is “aware of these reports involving US citizens. We are monitoring the situation and seeking additional information.”
Boat found abandoned by ‘good Samaritan’
The Salty Dawg Sailing Association said it was contacted Wednesday by a boater who spotted the Simplicity anchored and abandoned off the south coast of St. Vincent.
“The good Samaritan had boarded the boat and noted that the owners, Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, were not onboard and found evidence of apparent violence,” the group said. The person also contacted the coast guard, who notified St. Vincent police, the association said.
Grenada police said the escapees were recaptured the same day by the Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force.
Ben Osborn, the sailing club’s president, offered his support to the families and said the violence was unheard of.
“This is a very upsetting event and details are still unconfirmed by the authorities, but this does appear to be a tragic event – our hopes and prayers are with Ralph and Kathy and the family who love them,” Osborn said in a statement. “In all my years of cruising the Caribbean, I have never heard of anything like this.”
Seasoned boaters receive outpouring of support
News of Brandel and Hendry’s disappearance has opened a floodgate of support from loved ones, church friends and boating community members who stepped forward willing to help, their families said.
“We want to reach out to the entire cruiser community to express our gratitude for everyone that worked to gather information from eyewitnesses and provide search and rescue support. It means so much to us that so many people cared for Ralph and Kathy as friends and fellow cruisers that they are willing to stop and help in whatever way possible,” Buro and Bryan Hendry said in a statement shared by the sailing club.
They also asked that any boaters not affiliated with the official investigation stand down on their search efforts.
“The only way we feel this situation could be worse would be if anyone was hurt or endangered trying to conduct searches,” the statement read.
The couple also had close ties to their local Christian community, and a prayer service was held Saturday for them, Buro said.
A GoFundMe campaign has been established on behalf of Nick Buro to help fund the recovery of the yacht and the couple’s belongings, funeral costs and support.
CNN’s Sharif Paget and Chris Boyette contributed to this report.
The post Search continues for missing Americans after alleged yacht hijacking in the Caribbean, but a violent scene suggests the worst, family says appeared first on East Idaho News.

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