By Margie Wuebker
The bodies of two friends, who set off April 8 in a small fishing boat and never returned, were recovered Wednesday afternoon less than a half-mile apart.
The discoveries of Greg Parker, 15, of Celina, and Jonas Kahlig, 15, of Coldwater, came on the 12th day of a search involving more than a dozen state and local agencies.
An unidentified person called 911 shortly after 2:30 p.m. to report what appeared to be a body floating on the surface of water approximately 200 yards from the Harbor Point shoreline, located off state Route 703.
Two boats from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources divisions of watercraft and parks responded to the scene and made the recovery.
Grand Lake State Park Manager Craig Morton, on board one of the boats, was sure the body was that of Parker based on a clothing description provided by the family. The identity was verified later. Soon after the first recovery a storm moved in with pelting rain and gusty wind kicking up 2- to 3-foot waves, Morton said.
"We knew when one boy came up, the other would likely follow in short order," he added. "We planned to continue searching, but the storm caused us to tuck into Ohio Marine. That is when the second call came in."
An unidentified person spotted what appeared to be a body washed up between a pebble beach and a jetty off the Mariners Point Drive cul de sac around 5 p.m. and alerted authorities. Searchers quickly responded to the area, which is approximately one-half mile from the earlier recovery site.
Both bodies were transported to the morgue at Mercer County Community Hospital in Coldwater.
"Wednesday was the worst day of the search in terms of weather," Morton said. "It was not bad patrolling but getting the bodies into the boat proved to be difficult. We had waves coming over the edge."
John Wisse, public information officer for ODNR, said the recoveries were made near the fringe of the search area. Initially, searchers thought the bodies would be found along the West Bank shoreline given the wind direction and surface current at the time.
"We believe the boys made it more than halfway across the lake when the boat apparently capsized," Wisse said. "We enlarged the search area to include the upper northwest area late last week after a change in wind direction."
The Celina High School freshmen set off around 5 p.m. April 8 from Coldwater Beach near Montezuma to boat across the lake to Windemere Bay Condominiums, located along state Route 703, less than a mile from the recovery sites. When the boys did not show up at the condominiums, friends alerted authorities and search efforts began. Later that night the boys' boat, small electric trolling motor, life jackets and two shoes were found between the spillway and West Bank State Park. The search continued each day until the bodies were found.
Angela Muntzinger, who lives at Harbor Point, said she did not think twice when she noticed boats Wednesday afternoon not far from her neighbor's stone pier.
"There had been boats out here all weekend and cadaver dogs swimming in the water," she says. "I thought they were still looking until I saw a body being lifted into one of the boats. I knew it was one of the boys everybody was looking for, and I prayed the other one also would be found."
Lindsay Frysinger, Muntzinger's granddaughter, stood looking at the water down the road at Harbor Point Park with friend Lauren Spoltman talking quietly about Parker, who they affectionately called "Hillbilly," and Kahlig, who answered to the nicknames "Countryfetter" and "VaJonas."
"It doesn't seem possible both of them are gone," Frysinger says. "They were only freshmen, and they were just fishing."
The girls were among freshmen classmates who sponsored a car wash last weekend at Rino's Auto Sales. They raised more than $2,000 for the Parker and Kahlig families.
Gary Parker voiced his appreciation to searchers for bringing his son home. He had spent a lot of time during the course of 12 days looking along the rocky shoreline.
"We had hope in the beginning, but it grew dimmer as the days passed," he said. "Everyone put 100 percent effort into finding Greg and Jonas. We are deeply appreciative."
Steve and Diana Kahlig expressed similar thoughts through family spokesperson Mary Jo Joseph.
"We heard about the recovery of Greg, and we were happy for his family that the long wait was over," she said. "We knew Jonas would be found soon."
The Kahligs, who chose to await word at their Wabash area home, indicated the prayers and support of family, friends and even complete strangers made the long wait bearable.
Funeral arrangements for both teenagers are pending at Cisco Funeral Home in Celina.