Erie Co. coroner: Bodies found in Lake Erie appear to be missing kayakers Jonathan & Viola Francis

HURON, Ohio - The Erie County coroner said the bodies of a young girl and a man pulled from Lake Erie Friday appear to be those of a father and daughter reported missing earlier this month after they went kayaking.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Laughlin with the U.S. Coast Guard told NewsChannel5 a fisherman came across the first body at about 11 a.m. about eight miles north of the Vermilion River. Crews said it appeared to be an early teen girl.

Dr. Brian Baxter of the Erie County Coroner's Office said the body has been tentatively identified as 12-year-old Viola Francis.

Chief Deputy Jared Oliver of the Erie County Sheriff's Department said the girl's clothing and a unique piece of jewelry -- an earring -- was used to help tentatively identify her.

Then at about 2:30 p.m., crews found a second body closer to Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky. The sheriff's office and coroner said it appeared to be the body of Jonathan Francis, Viola's father.

Jonathan and Viola went kayaking April 6 and never returned. They were last seen leaving their Crystal Rock home with two kayaks.

The search for the two was suspended in Sandusky Bay after their kayaks were found on the other side of the bay the next day.

Search crews from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office in Michigan were called in Friday to help the Erie County Sheriff's Office with aerial assistance in checking the open waters of Lake Erie for the missing man.

After hearing this, Bryan Griffin, a neighbor and family friend said a little reluctantly, "It's good to bring closure to the family.  At least they have their family members back.  They know where they're at so at least the closure and healing process can begin."

Griffin told NewsChannel5 he grew up with Jonathan's girlfriend and met Viola several times.  Early April, when the search began, Griffin and his wife put up a lighthouse near the cost where Jonathan and Viola took off in their kayaks.

"It's just a horrible tragedy and I just wish … I just wish it didn't happen," Griffin said outside of his Crystal Rock home.

Several other neighbors of the small Crystal Rock community were also saddened but eased by news of both bodies discovered.  Sherry Ring told NewsChannel5 the entire community has been morning since that April 6 when both Jonathan and Viola were first reported missing.

"We're glad that uh, she can finally find peace now," Ring said of Jonathan's girlfriend as well.

The circumstances around the missing persons investigation made things difficult for the family, especially after investigators reported both Jonathan and Viola were not wearing life jackets. 

Jonathan's mother, Gwen Gwinner said, "Jonathan going out there and he didn't have a life jacket, I have not heard one single negative thing and I appreciate that.  So, we all make our mistakes but none the less, I support – I just appreciate what everyone has done and are continuing to do."

Gwinner told NewsChannel5 her memories and faith are guiding her through this. "I get to go to them one day so that's what I look forward to.  There's closure here on earth, but there's always another beginning.  That's what I believe," said Gwinner. 

Viola's body was sent to the Lucas County Coroner's Office for an autopsy.

Family members say they are now working on funeral arrangements.

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