A 14-year old boy visiting Anna Maria with his family from Winter Haven July 6, disappeared in the Gulf of Mexico during an afternoon visit to the beach and was found drowned around 9 a.m. July 7, south of the Sandbar Restaurant.
A Manatee County Sheriff’s Office marine unit found the body near where the boy had disappeared in the surf. The water was choppy from a brisk breeze and small waves were breaking on shore.
On Saturday evening, north of the Willow access, two weddings were ongoing on the beach while others unknowingly played in the surf. Some people tried and failed to right a small fishing boat overturned close to shore just north of the Sandbar Restaurant.
There were circling helicopters, five-six rescue vessels displaying blue flashing lights and rescuers on personal watercraft, while a white pickup truck, which had carried marine rescue personnel and paddleboards to the beach, was parked at the water’s edge.
The rescue effort, however, became a recovery operation on Sunday morning.
The victim was identified as Dushay Nelson. He had been wading in knee-deep water with his 12-year old brother near the Willow Avenue beach access around 4:30 p.m. July 6 when a current prevented him from returning to shore, authorities said. The younger brother was able to reach shore and a search was begun for the older brother.
MCSO spokesman Dave Bristow said in a press release that multiple agencies had searched for the boy after he was carried away.
The search included three helicopters — one from the U.S. Coast Guard, one from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and a third from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement unit.
On the water, as many as 10 Manatee County Marine Rescue lifeguards searched from personal watercraft and inflatable boats, while the sheriff’s office, West Manatee Fire Rescue and FWC marine patrol officers searched by boat.
MCSO Lt. Barry Overstreet, viewing the scene of boats and helicopters in the search from the Willow Avenue beach access amid crowds of people, said, “It’s just a terrible tragedy.”
Some observers called the scene surreal. Islanders Jeff and Annie Petitt, walking the beach near sunset, said they were saddened and surprised at the number of people playing nearby in the water.
Overstreet said a local church helped provide overnight shelter on the island for the boy’s family.
The search for Nelson was called off at about 8:24 p.m. Saturday, and resumed near 7 a.m. on July 7.