March 18, 2011

St. Patrick's Day reflections

St. Patrick's Day Parade, South Boston 2007
Photo credit: Boston.com

I hope you all had a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day. I have read no news reports of missing men, so my hope is that all our young adults have made it home safely. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on how St. Patrick's Day has touched the lives of some of the young men who have gone missing.


Missing in Boston

The weekend of St. Patrick’s Day 2007 greeted revelers in Boston with an assault of stinging, pelting snow that was carried horizontally by the cold, whipping wind. Visibility along the water was poor and temperatures were in the teens. The storm was not expected to wind down until March 17. Despite the poor weather in Boston, the St. Patrick’s Day festivities carried on with many venturing out in the snow.

That weekend, two young sailors from North Carolina—Dustin Willis, 26, and William Hurley, 22—arrived in Boston to spend their shore leave at one of the nation’s biggest annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Although the men were stationed aboard different ships, their lives would intersect in an odd coincidence, years later—both would ultimately disappear, their lives ending tragically.



Dustin Willis

Dustin Willis

Dustin Willis, a 26-year old Navy petty officer 3rd class, was serving aboard the USS Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer carrying a crew of approximately 338. The vessel arrived in South Boston on Mar. 16, 2007 and had docked in Boston Harbor for St. Patrick’s Day.

“Dusty,” as he was known to family and friends, was a native of Frisco, N.C. and was stationed out of Norfolk, Va. He and his girlfriend, Shawna, and their 5-year old son, Logan Gene, were living in Rodanthe, N.C. They were looking forward to the future, when they could spend more time together as a family and eventually make a home for themselves in Virginia Beach, Va.


A long-awaited night on the town

The crew of the USS Donald Cook was just coming off a long and tedious schedule and looking forward to some down-time before their return trip home. Like many other Navy personnel that night, Dusty decided to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with an evening out on the town, despite the poor weather.

He and some of his shipmates spent the evening in Boston’s tourist area, the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market area. This area is on the waterfront and about 11/3 miles from the ship.

Dusty was wearing civilian clothing, a jacket, blue jeans, and a tuxedo t-shirt which did stand out a bit from the crowd, but it was not his habit to carry much cash.

He spoke with his parents in North Carolina around 10 p.m., then called Shawna again at 10:50 p.m., mentioning that he had some beers to drink that night. Both his father and his girlfriend say he was not drunk; he was in full control of his faculties and not slurring his words.

Shawna was still chatting on the phone with Dusty at 11 p.m., when he and his shipmates left McFadden’s bar. When Willis turned the corner near the Black Rose Pub in Quincy Market, his shipmates lost sight of him in the blowing snow. They assumed he had ducked into a building, but when they checked out a few places, he was nowhere to be found. His cell phone call to Shawna then ended abruptly.

Both Shawna and his shipmates called Dusty's cell phone and left messages, but got no response. An hour later, Dusty's phone was found by a passerby on the sidewalk near the Legal Sea Foods restaurant by the Long Wharf. It was then turned in to the police department.

There was no other trace of Dusty Willis.

Dusty, a gas turbine system technician, was known to be exceptionally reliable. Just three days before the night of his disappearance, he had just received the Navy Achievement Medal and was described as having a stellar, spotless record during his four years in the Navy. It was not like him to disappear, yet he was not reported missing until 7:30 a.m. Sunday, when he was due to report back to the ship.



Long Wharf in Boston
Photo credit: kamalyn
On Wed., Mar. 21, 2007 at around midnight, Dusty Willis's body was found in the frigid waters of Boston Harbor, not far from the Long Wharf, where his cell phone was found. His identification was found on his body. There was no significant trauma found, and authorities said his body had been in the water for more than a few days. The underwater scene was documented with a camera as part of the evidence collection.

Officials believe Dusty's death was a bad mishap, that after he was separated from his friends, he became confused in the driving snow and accidentally fell off the dock.

"I do miss my son. He served his country and I am very proud of him. I am glad he had friends in the service-- people who cared about my son. My other four children, their wives, their grandchildren, my wife, Michelle, we want to thank everyone for what they've done. We want to take my son home and give him the burial he deserves," Dusty's father, Tony Willis, told TheBostonChannel.com.


William Hurley

On St. Patrick's Day 2007, William Hurley, 24, was serving alongside a crew of 206 aboard the Navy frigate USS De Wert. Spending shore leave in Boston over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend is a tradition for the Navy, and like the USS Donald Cook, the DeWert had docked in Boston Harbor.

William Hurley, also ventured out into the blizzard-like conditions to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. He met his future fiancee, Claire, while out on the town.

Claire, a graduate of Emmanuel College, was working on her master’s degree in teaching at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. William belonged to the MP Division and had served on the USS DeWert since Sept.7, 2005. He was stationed out of Mayport, Fla.

William Hurley and girlfriend, Claire
On May 30, 2008, about a year after William and Claire met, William's military service on the USS DeWert ended. That December, he moved to Quincy, Mass., to live with Claire. The two had agreed to get married and were in the process of saving up some money. William had bought Claire an engagement ring for Christmas, but told a coworker that the timing wasn’t quite right to give it to her yet.

William worked as a greenskeeper at the Weston Country Club in Weston, Mass. On Oct. 8, 2009, a coworker invited him to see his first Boston Bruins hockey game at the TD Banknorth Gardens in Boston. After getting off work, William took the train to the coworker's home in Brighton, Mass. There, they were joined by another friend, and the three took public transportation to the game.

William had previously commented that he was tired and, reportedly, he also had two or three beers at the game. After the first period, he called Claire to pick him up. According to one report, he felt ill.

Claire drove from their home in Quincy to pick him up; and William left the game to meet her outside. William was not very familiar with the area. He did not know where to tell Claire to meet him, so he asked a passerby the exact address. Claire heard someone yell “99 Nashua Street,” then William told her his phone was about to die, and he would wait for her there. The call ended abruptly. Claire was just two blocks away, but by the time she arrived at the address, William was gone.

According to WHDH.com, William's cell phone was found smashed on the ground during one of the searches to locate him.

Authorities found no other trace of the young man until six days later on Oct. 14, 2009, when his body was found in the Charles River. There were no signs of trauma to the body, and his wallet, cash, and keys were found on his person, ruling out the possibility of robbery.

At the time, Boston.com reported that “Hurley appeared to be walking across the street from the Nashua Street Jail in an 'unfenced area' of a park along the banks of the Charles.”

It is not known why he was headed in that direction, especially when he knew his ride was coming.


Eugene Losik
with girlfriend, Caitlin
Eugene Losik

Four months later, another young man, Eugene "Gene" Losik, disappeared after a birthday party celebration in Boston. While Gene did not disappear on St. Patrick's Day (he went missing on Feb. 20, 2010), he did have ties to the military, and disappeared in the area where Dusty Willis had been found just three years before. Gene's girlfriend of four years, Caitlin, was one of the last people to see him. The couple had planned to get married the following year.

Gene was a graduate of the College of Engineering at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, obtaining a degree in Electrical Engineering in 2008. While he was not in the military, he worked as an engineer developing test equipment at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Tewskbury, Mass. The company holds large international and domestic military defense contracts, including the US Missile Defense Agency, the US Armed Forces, and the Department of Homeland Security.

The night he disappeared, Gene spent the evening drinking and dancing at Fanueil Hall with his girlfriend Caitlin and some friends. The group then returned to their rooms at the nearby Marriott Long Wharf Hotel. Gene and a buddy played cards in another friend's room from 1:15 a.m. until about 2:10 a.m., while Caitlin slept in her hotel room. About fifteen minutes after the card game broke up, Gene was seen on camera leaving the hotel through the back entrance, possibly to have a cigarette. The back entrance is near Tia's Restaurant and Christopher Columbus Park.

It is unclear why he did not return to the hotel or where Gene may have been headed. He was not wearing a coat or a hat, his cell phone had run out of its charge, and he only had about $20 in his wallet.

On Nov. 18, 2010, his body was found in Boston Harbor near Rowe's Wharf.

Friends and family also wonder why Gene wasn't spotted by someone after he left the hotel. The hotel is a popular spot and very active with people coming and going into the early hours of the morning.


A busy weekend in the harbor

On the weekend Gene disappeared, Navy and Coast Guard forces had also been brought in to secure the Boston Harbor area for the first of several LNG tanker deliveries from Yemen. The vessel was scheduled to arrive on Tues., Feb. 23, 2010, while Gene Losik was still missing.

The tankers, which arrive at a rate of two to three per month, carry liquefied natural gas. Local officials have opposed having the vessels in the harbor, citing safety concerns about the explosive fuel coming within 50 feet of some residential neighborhoods. Concerns about lending support to terrorism or increasing the risk of terrorist activity were also raised, as the suspect in the failed Christmas Day plot to blow up a Detroit-bound flight had reportedly received training in Yemen.



LNG Tanker from Yemen in Boston Harbor
Photo source: Massachusetts National Guard

Because of these concerns, the arrival of the first tanker in Boston was a massive, choreographed, multi-agency effort. Streets were secured in the harbor area, and Boston Police had special operations and detail officers standing by as the 935-foot Maran Gas Coronis crossed under the Tobin Memorial Bridge around 4:30 a.m.

The tanker had been searched by the Coast Guard several miles off shore before coming into the harbor. When she arrived, the ship was "flanked by pilot vessels and tugs, and was escorted by about a dozen law enforcement boats, with their blue lights flashing. Two police helicopters patrolled above, and an army of state and local police officers, including special operations officers, guarded the land. Patrol cars and wagons were visible at nearly every vantage point with a view of the ship’s arrival." (WHDH.com, 2/23/10).

Yet, despite all the additional personnel stationed around the harbor, no one spotted the missing Gene Losik.


Gregory Hart

In March of 2010, the family of a man from Dedham, Mass. became worried when he did not show up to meet them for a St. Patrick's Day parade. Gregory Hart, "Greg" as he was known to family and friends, had last been seen with three old colleges buddies at a bar in Providence, R.I., where he was celebrating a new job. Providence is about an hour southwest of Boston.

Greg Hart with girlfriend, Bridget
Greg was last seen at around 1:40 a.m when he got up and left the tavern. He either said nothing when he left, or his friends did not hear him at the time. Throughout the night, friends tried calling Greg's cell phone, but it went unanswered. By Sunday, when he hadn't returned for the St. Patrick's Day parade, his family became "seriously worried" and filed a missing person's report.

Police did not begin a search for Greg, despite reports that some type of disturbance or altercation had taken place at the bar that night.


Family suspects foul play

Three days later, a family friend found Hart's body washed up against a tree limb in the rain-swollen Woonasqatucket River in Providence. It was found upstream from the bar where he was last seen.

An autopsy indicated that Greg, a licensed and experienced scuba diver who was very familiar with the water, had drowned. The exam also noted injuries to the body that suggest Greg had been in a fight that night, but the medical examiner maintains that there were no signs of foul play. Tests also showed that Greg had been very intoxicated at the time, yet his friends say he didn't have much to drink that night.

Greg's family believes it was foul play and has hired a private investigator. Among the many things they found: tests on Greg's cell phone indicate that the phone had not been in water, although one police report said the phone was found on his partially submerged body.

Greg Hart had just moved to Dedham, Massachusetts. Like Gene Losik, he was a graduate of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and had had a girlfriend, Bridget, for the past four years. He was also very bright and had been on the dean's list all through college, graduating cum laude in economics.

Greg was in the Navy and had been accepted into an officer's program to be a Navy fighter pilot. He had also just landed a new job as an applications specialist at Meditech, a leading software vendor to the healthcare industry based out of Westwood, Mass. The job provided him with opportunities to travel.

The news has devasted his family. "He's my heart. I can't even function. Nothing's important anymore," his mother, Marianne Hart, told the Providence Journal.

Hart’s father said his son was his “best friend.”


Other young men with ties to Boston

Other young men with ties to Boston have also disappeared during the month of March, though they do not appear to have a connection to St. Patrick's Day or the military.

Most recently, Alexander Grant, a 19-year old student at Boston College, died on Mar. 5, 2011 from drowning and hypothermia after visiting friends at a party in Skidmore College in Saratoga, N.Y. Alexander, who lived in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., was a talented keyboardist, accomplished musician, mathematician, and fundraiser for various charities. He worked for the past three years as an intern at Risk Resources, LLC, a financial advisory company in New York City.

Just four days prior to Alexander's disappearance, 24-year old David Mark was found on the shoreline near 498 Meridian Street in East Boston, Mass. David, who was from Albany, N.Y., had left on a spur of the moment trip to visit his sister in the Boston suburb of Newton, Mass. Authorities suspect that after stopping at a bar in Boston, David, who suffered from Type 1 diabetes and was without his insulin, may have become confused and disoriented.


Other young men who disappeared on St. Patrick's Day

Other young men have disappeared on St. Patrick's Day, although not in Boston, and they did not necessarily have other factors in common.

Joshua Kamuela Kaneakua, 22, of Minneapolis, Minn., was last seen on Mar. 17, 2007, at Gabby's Saloon and Eatery on the northeast side of Minneapolis, where he had been celebrating St. Patrick's Day. His body was discovered in the Mississippi River on Mar. 27, 2007, near the Lake Street Bridge. His death was ruled a suicide.

Antwane Tucker, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., also vanished after leaving Gabby's Saloon on St. Patrick's Day in 2009. His fully clothed body was found on Friday, May 15, 2009 near the Hennepin Avenue bridge. There were no signs of trauma, and the death was ruled a suicide.



Originally published: 3/18/11 11:24 a.m.    Updated: 3/13/12 4:19 p.m.

2 comments:

Monique777 said...

Excellent write-up to remember these young, promising men who disappeared under unusual circumstances with many coincidences. Thankfully this year has been a safe one for men out celebrating!

C said...

These stories are so similar.. to me, it without a doubt proves something is going on..These men are being MURDERED. No question about it. So sad.. all these men had so much to live for.