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Family of Virginia couple missing in the Caribbean asks public to leave search to experts: ‘Stand down’

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The family of the Virginia couple who went missing after their yacht was found abandoned and ransacked in the Caribbean is speaking out and thanking those who have helped in the search efforts.

“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,” Bryan Hendry and Nick Buro said in a statement released by the couple’s sailing group – Salty Dawg Sailing Association (SDSA). “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.” 

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel were docked on Sunday in the St. George’s area of Grenada, which they frequent annually in the winter months when authorities said three fugitives ambushed them and stole their yacht called “Simplicity.”

Three escaped prisoners; Ron Mitchell, a 30-year-old sailor; Trevon Robertson, a 19-year-old unemployed man, and Abita Stanislaus, a 20-year-old farmer, were taken into custody on charges of violent robbery, with the eldest also being held on three counts of attempted rape, according to the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF).

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The family thanked all the search and rescue crews for all their efforts to find Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel. (Salty Dawg Sailing Association)

Police said all three prisoners are locals from Paradise in Grenada and had been locked up since December.

The RGPF said the three escaped prisoners were discovered near another Caribbean Island on Wednesday, but there was no sign of the couple. 

“For the safety of the cruising community, we are asking all cruisers, and anyone that is not affiliated with the officials with presiding jurisdiction, to stand down. The only way we feel this situation could be worse would be if anyone was hurt or endangered trying to conduct searches,” the family said. 

Investigators said the boat was ransacked and that a violent act took place.

“The RGPF is currently working on leads that suggest that the two occupants of the yacht may have been killed in the process,” police said in a Thursday Facebook post. “It is believed that the occupants of the yacht were American citizens.”

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"Simplicity" floating in the water

A Virginia couple who were enjoying their retirement cruising the Caribbean on their yacht are feared dead after three escaped prisoners hijacked their vessel – called “Simplicity.” (Salty Dawg Sailing Association)

A GoFundMe post by Jessica Mause, who said she is a close friend of one of the couple’s sons, wrote that they were dead.

“It is with profound sadness and heavy hearts that we share the devastating news of the senseless act of violence that tragically claimed the lives of husband and wife, Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel. Kathy and Ralph were seasoned sailors who lived on their beloved catamaran, Simplicity. Their lives ended in unimaginable tragedy on Sunday, February 19th, off the shores of Grand Anse Beach, Grenada,” Mause wrote. 

However, Hendry’s sister, Suellen Desmarais, told FOX 5 that she is keeping faith they are alive and is still trying to figure out what happened.

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Three suspects arrested in the case of a Virginia couple feared dead.

Ron Mitchell, a 30-year-old sailor; Trevon Robertson, a 19-year-old unemployed man, and Abita Stanislaus, a 20-year-old farmer, were taken into custody in relation to the disappearance of Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel. (RSVG Police Force via Facebook )

“Why would I presume anyone is dead with no body and DNA? I want to remain positive. I want to believe that they are alive,” said Desmarais, who shared some details about the heartbreaking incident.

Bob Osborn, SDSA President, speaking for the whole Salty Dawg family, said, “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. I have spoken to the families and have offered our deepest condolences and our assistance in any way possible. In all my years of cruising the Caribbean, I have never heard of anything like this.”

As of Sunday, the GoFundMe page as reached nearly $45,000 with Mause stating that the funds will be going towards recovering the vessel and belongings, covering funeral costs, and providing support to the grieving families as they deal with the tragedy.

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The missing couple's boat called "Simplicity"

The Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) said the three prisoners were discovered near another Caribbean Island on Wednesday, but there was no sign of the couple.  (Salty Dawg Sailing Association)

The RGPF said in a statement released Friday that they were working on leads “that suggest” the two occupants of the yacht might have been killed.

“This investigation is in its infancy stage,” police said.

Fox News Digital’s Michael Dorgan and Christina Coleman contributed to this story. 

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