FORT MYERS BEACH
The family and friends of 72-year-old James “Denny” Hurst are feeling a bittersweet mixture of emotions after the recovery of Hurst’s body, meaning everyone missing is accounted for in Lee County after Hurricane Ian.
Hurst was found on his sunken sailboat Good Girl, pulled out of the water near Salty Sam’s in Matanzas Pass on Friday. While those who knew Hurst were crushed to learn of his fate, they’re happy his family has the closure they’ve awaited for over 100 days.
“It was amazing that they found him,” said Fort Myers resident Daryl Schmidt. “I was kind of surprised they found him that late.”
It wasn’t an easy operation. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office spent hours in and out of the water. Hurst’s daughter Shannon Vaughan shared her reaction to the discovery in a Twitter post: “I’m happy and sad at the same time.”
She’s found and remains confirmed on board but have to wait on the ME to officially identify.
I’m happy and sad at the same time pic.twitter.com/gZrY9s28bz
— Waffa 3.0/Shannon (@waffaagain) January 13, 2023
Despite the outcome, Cape Coral resident John Davies says Hurst’s death won’t be in vain.
He believes Hurst was a perfect example of what makes the people on Fort Myers Beach special.
“It’s, you know, reminiscent of the characters, the beach people, what they love about it, and they’re not about to leave under any circumstances: ‘A hurricane is coming, I’ve got my boat, whatever comes, comes,’” Davies said.
For others, like Ann Garbelink, the discovery of Hurst serves as a closing point: He was the last unaccounted-for person since Ian hit. Knowing he’s been found gives her peace as she continues moving forward.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a teenager, and visiting my parents, and then we moved here five years ago,” Garbelink said. “I needed that closure, I needed to come down here and see it.”
The recovery process has not stopped; crews are still clearing out debris from the water in Fort Myers Beach. But people say progress won’t let them forget about those who lost their lives in the storm, people like Hurst and Ilonka Knes, also recently found.
“I just kept saying, ‘What about Ilonka?’” said Marti Gardner, Knes’ best friend. “I kept calling everybody I knew, and no one knew what had happened to her.”
The same goes for Hurst. Shannon Vaughan shared on social media regarding her journey as she searched for her father.
“It’s official,” Vaughan said. “Missing persons just called; medical examiner confirmed that is my father that was found on his boat.”
Deputies confirmed Knes’ remains were found on Jan. 10 in the mangroves near Fort Myers Beach Town Hall. Just three days later, Hurst’s sailboat was found underwater in Matanzas Pass with him onboard.
“It’s just very sad,” Garbelink said. “The whole thing is very sad.”
“I think it’s wonderful for the family to have that closure,” said Cape Coral resident Harper Wright. “He died the way he lived.”
Despite the tragic outcome, people say their lives shouldn’t be forgotten, nor should any of the more than 100 lives we lost during Hurricane Ian. Daryl Schmidt suggests creating a memorial.
“Maybe just a big plaque with names on it,” Schmidt said. “Something out here in Times Square.”