PORT SHELDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department is investigating an object found in Lake Michigan near where two boaters went missing more than a week ago.
The department dropped a remote underwater vehicle into Lake Michigan Tuesday afternoon, after volunteers got a ‘ping’ off their equipment Sunday, showing the object about 200 feet down in the lake.
Aaron Juarez, 40, and 25-year-old Chris Thode, roommates from Wyoming, launched their boat from Pigeon Lake in Port Sheldon Township on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 26 to go fishing and have not been seen since. No one noticed they were missing until Wednesday.
The U.S. Coast Guard and Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office launched a massive search for the pair that covered Pigeon Lake and around 3,800 miles of Lake Michigan almost to the Wisconsin shoreline. But after no sign was found of the men, their boat or the dogs they took with them, the search was called off late Thursday afternoon.
Members of Juarez’s family says they have accepted that he is likely not alive, but say they are still ‘hoping for a miracle.’
“They could be floating still. We have no evidence. Until we have evidence, we don’t know. They could be floating by the UP or down by Chicago and no one has seen them yet,” Victor Juarez Jr., Juarez’s brother, said.
“We’d just like to find something that tells that they were in the water,” Renee Palermo, Juarez’s sister, said. “Because right now, they are just missing without a trace. And we need to find just a little piece to bring them home. I mean, ultimately, we want to bring them home. But maybe even just find the boat. So, whatever we can find, if we have the opportunity, we’re going to try.”
The family called in a nonprofit volunteer group called Bruce’s Legacy, which is based out of Wisconsin, to continue searching. Sunday, four volunteers used sonar and dive gear to search the bottom of Lake Michigan. That’s when they spotted the unknown object.
“It gives us hope that we might still have a chance of finding something or finding them,” Palermo said.
The family says they won’t be able to grieve until they do.
“We want to bring our boys home,” Palermo said.
The volunteer group did not bring a boat and is relying on local residents to donate their boats for use in the search effort. Tuesday, Joe Niewiek of Niewiek Auto Sales in Grand Rapids donated the use of his 32-foot boat. Community members have also helped with bringing the watercraft out to sea. Anyone willing to loan a boat that’s longer than 20 feet is asked to call 715.896.0726.
Palermo has been paying out of pocket to house and feed the group. She has also set up a GoFundMe account to help cover the searchers’ expenses and, if necessary, memorial services.
Bruce’s Legacy was founded by Keith Cormican after his brother Bruce died during a water rescue in 1995.