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Bodies of father, daughter found after 20 days missing

Jessica Cuffman • Apr 26, 2013 at 11:14 PM

The bodies of a father and daughter who’d been missing since April 6 were found Friday in Lake Erie — one on a breakwall near Cedar Point, the other floating miles offshore.

The discoveries came within hours of each other.

At about 10:30 a.m., a boater discovered the body of Viola Francis, 12, floating about 6 miles off the shore east of Huron, Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said.

Hours later, two fishermen discovered her father, Jonathan Francis, 30, washed up near the rocks of a Cedar Point breakwall on the bay side of the peninsula.

After 20 days of uncertainty, the conclusions brought mixed emotions to family members of the two.

“It definitely helps bring some closure,” said Timothy Snyder Jr., fiance to Viola’s mother, Ruth Brown, of Sandusky. “There were so many questions. It was making it really hard to deal with.”

“Ruthie, being her mom, she had her hopes up,” Snyder said. “She’s taking it pretty hard.”

Viola and her father left from Crystal Rock at about 5 p.m. April 6, planning a short trip in their new Christmas kayaks to the Edison Bridge. When they didn’t return, Jonathan’s girlfriend reported them missing at 5 a.m. the following morning.

They were not wearing life jackets. In the search that followed, the U.S. Coast Guard discovered their two kayaks floating near the shore across the bay, by Port Clinton.

One kayak was filled with debris, and searchers also found a pair of shoes believed to be Jonathan’s.

Despite a massive search effort involving the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ watercraft division, area fire departments and dozens of family and friends, there were no signs of the kayakers for weeks.

Until Friday.

A private boater called the U.S. Coast Guard’s Marblehead station after finding Viola’s body floating in the open water, Sigsworth said. Coast Guard crews took the body to the Shelby Street boat ramp, where Erie County coroner Brian Baxter met them before sending it to Lucas County for an autopsy.

Clothing and jewelry matched the description of what Viola was wearing when she left with her father the day she went missing.

Sandusky firefighters recovered the second body a few hours later, after two fishermen spotted it on the rocks and called Cedar Point police.

Authorities identified Jonathan by a pendant and a tattoo. The identifications won’t be official until autopsies are completed. Emergency officials said there’s no science to predicting where the bodies would have turned up, although firefighters anticipated the bodies would surface this week, when temperatures warmed.

Viola’s family will miss her greatly, Snyder said — the girl was an artist, a tomboy and a water enthusiast.

The Margaretta Schools sixth-grader was beautiful, artistic, funny and good-willed, Snyder said.

She helped out with her three younger siblings, ages 12, 8 and 8 months.

“She was a great big sister. Without a doubt,” he said.

Viola spent her free time on art projects, playing with clay and making drawings. But she also had a lot of tomboy in her.

“She liked doing outdoors stuff, just anything that involved fun. She liked the water a lot,” he said.

Through Viola’s childhood, Richard and Karelene Cottrill, essentially surrogate grandparents to her, often took her out to the sandbar on their boat, contributing to her love of the water.

Everyone who knew her will miss her, Snyder said.

“Me and Ruthie and the family ... We’ll always have her in our hearts and minds and be thinking of her,” he said.

The family has started the Viola Francis Memorial Fund to cover funeral and wake expenses. Donations may be made at any Fifth Third Bank.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family,” Sigsworth said.

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