CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Family of Americans believed dead after yacht allegedly hijacked in Grenada describe scene of violence

Feb 26, 2024, 6:30 AM

Kathy Brandel and her husband of 27 years, Ralph Hendry...

Kathy Brandel and her husband of 27 years, Ralph Hendry, are believed to be dead after spending the winter cruising the Eastern Caribbean. (Nick Buro via CNN Newsource)

(Nick Buro via CNN Newsource)

Originally Published: 25 FEB 24 15:45 ET
Updated: 25 FEB 24 17:47 ET

(CNN) — The family of two Americans who may have been killed after prison escapees allegedly hijacked their yacht in Granada are clinging to hope the couple might be found alive.

The pair have been identified by their sailing club as Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry, a couple from Virginia who were spending the winter cruising the Eastern Caribbean after sailing their yacht, Simplicity, from Hampton, Virginia, to Antigua.

Authorities have yet to confirm the identities of the couple, but police in Grenada have said they have three men back in custody who escaped from prison on February 18 and may have killed two people believed to be US citizens.

Brandel’s son – Nick Buro – told CNN Sunday they were holding out hope the couple might be found safe but evidence on Simplicity suggested violent scenes.

“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 which does indicate that we are concerned for their safety overall because it does appear that they were likely injured,” he said.

“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.”

Buro said the search effort is ongoing. “As far as we know three suspects are allegedly connected with this horrific event are in custody with the St. Vincent police and are being questioned,” he said.

“We are doing our best to try and get answers to find out what is next in terms of hopefully finding them safely recovered somewhere on the islands,” Nick Buro told CNN Sunday. “But of course from the evidence that’s been found on the boat, we are concerned that there might be a possibility that they aren’t with us.”

Buro said his mother and Hendry were seasoned sailors and had sold their home years ago to buy a boat.

“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 sell their home, sell their possessions, and bought a boat and 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.”

This winter was the first time his mother and stepfather had sailed to the Caribbean, Buro said, a trip they had been planning for years.

He said the couple had a strong connection to Virginia’s Christian community and a prayer service been held on Saturday in their honor.

“The outpouring from the boating community, family and friends, their entire church, everything has been overwhelmingly an outpour of emotion, of support and love and care,” Buro told CNN.

In an earlier news release, the Salty Dawg Sailing Association paid tribute to the missing sailors.

“Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry are veteran cruisers and long-time members of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association from its earliest days. Warm hearted and capable, they both contributed to building the SDSA and Kathy sat on the association’s board for two years,” the release said.

The club shared a statement from Brandel’s and Hendry’s family.

“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,” Nick Buro and Hendry’s son, Bryan Hendry, said in the statement.

The family also called on other sailors and anyone not affiliated with the official investigation to stand down in their searches and thanked the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force and Coast Guard for their investigations.

“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.

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.

According to the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a passing “good Samaritan” contacted it on February 21 after finding 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,” it said. They found contact details for the club and also contacted the Coast Guard, who notified St. Vincent police, the association said.

Wednesday, the day the boat was found, was Kathy’s 71st birthday according to Buro. Saturday, March 2, will be Ralph’s 67th birthday, his son Bryan Hendry told CNN.

“We’re extremely thankful for the efforts of the St. Vincent and Grenadines, and the Grenada authorities including each of those countries’ police departments and coast guards for coordinating in this investigation and quickly apprehending these dangerous subjects and recovering Simplicity and getting it to safety as quickly as they did. They have been very hospitable to us and helpful,” Hendry said.

Bob Osborn, the club’s president, offered condolences 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. “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.”

In a statement on Friday, the US State Department said it is “aware of these reports involving US citizens. We are monitoring the situation and seeking additional information.”

On Saturday, Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force Superintendent Junior O. Simmons told CNN the suspects are cooperating with the investigation and more information would be released.

CNN’s Jillian Sykes, Abel Alvarado and Aaron Eggleston contributed to this report.

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Family of Americans believed dead after yacht allegedly hijacked in Grenada describe scene of violence