A search that lasted more than a week is over today and a family can finally begin to heal.
Divers with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office located the body of 13-year-old Griffin Prince on Wednesday evening in 113 feet of water near the mouth of Shoal Creek in Lake Lanier.
Local, state and federal agencies have been searching for the teenager’s body since a June 18 boating accident that also killed his 9-year-old brother.
But until Wednesday, when an FBI sonar drew divers to debris from the wreck site, 12-hour days of searching had turned up no sign of the Buford teenager.
Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office said divers recovered Griffin’s body at about 6 p.m. in what would have been their final dive of the day.
It was a moment, Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic said in a later press conference, that brought “great relief and sadness.”
“We know that there’s nothing that can console these parents in the loss of their two children, but we do hope that the recovery of Griffin helps them to put some closure on this tragic event at this time,” Cronic said.
The teenager’s body was sent to the DeKalb County Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.
The Prince family has asked for privacy as they gain closure, Cronic said.
Griffin disappeared under the surface of Lake Lanier after a 21- to 22-foot center console fishing boat rammed into the 17-passenger pontoon boat his family and three other families were riding in sometime around 10:30 p.m. last Monday.
Griffin’s 9-year-old little brother, Jake Prince, was killed on impact.
Paul J. Bennett, operator of the fishing boat and owner of a Forsyth County hair salon, is free on bail from charges of boating under the influence in connection with the incident.
Officials with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which is investigating the crash, say other charges may be pending.
But those charges could be several weeks away, according to DNR Col. Eddie Henderson. Currently, the agency’s critical incident reconstruction team is in the process of recreating the accident.
Once the team is done with the report, the DNR will hand it over to the district attorney with recommendations.
At least nine agencies with local, state and federal ties pitched in on the search for Griffin over the last week and a half.
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency provided the search teams with two search dogs, trained to pick up odors emanating from the lake.
Forsyth County offered portable Geographic Information System mapping on site that gave the search teams a clear overview of what areas still need to be searched.
The FBI came to the aid of searchers earlier this week at the request of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office. The team, based out of Quantico, Va., brought equipment that allowed divers to stay below the surface longer than some local dive team gear.
The sonar spotted some of the wreckage from the June 18 accident Wednesday afternoon, which eventually led divers to Griffin’s body.
“Without that equipment, we would not have made this recovery today,” Cronic said, describing the area where the body was found as one of the deepest in Lake Lanier.
Authorities wouldn’t describe the debris that led them to Griffin’s body, nor would they pinpoint the location Griffin’s body was found, citing DNR’s ongoing investigation.
But the sheriff said Griffin’s body was found Wednesday in an area searchers had combed before.
The nine-day search had spanned a one-square-mile area of the lake, much of which was forest that had been submerged after the construction of Buford Dam.
Some of the area reached depths of 140 feet, the sheriff said.
“They were literally climbing trees trying to locate Griffin,” Cronic said, praising the office’s 10-man dive team for acts he described as bravery.
Along with the submerged trees, divers searched in deep water that had nearly no visibility and low temperatures. The sheriff described the search as “hunting a needle in a haystack.”
“When you get to depths that low, the water’s so cold that a lot of times it does not give the bodies up,” Cronic said. “It’s just a dangerous, treacherous thing, and you don’t have the circumstances that sometimes leads to a body surfacing when it’s at that depth.”
“I thank God that we’ve got people that will do that,” Cronic said.