JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Vernon and Andrea Stephens were in the middle of their happily ever after. They were weeks away from celebrating 11 years of marriage.
Andrea recently graduated nursing school and started a new job.
And one week ago they'd just watched their two children compete in a talent show and were having family dinner to celebrate.
"Vernon was so proud, you know, he was so proud of them for doing so well so," Andrea said. "It was a great time. It was a great last dinner, even though we didn't know it was our last."
Andrea said her husband left dinner to go meet friends. Hours later she got a call from police, who said his car broke down on the Mathews Bridge and he was nowhere to be found.
"I didn't think a lot of it. Well, let's just say I wasn't panicked," Andrea said. "I figured my husband had maybe walked to the gas station or walked to a phone."
She started calling her husband's friends; none of them had seen or heard from him.
Then Andrea went to the Mathews Bridge. And after seeing the keys in the ignition and her husband's bags still in the backseat, her optimism faded.
"I knew Friday night that he was gone," she said. "I knew in my spirit that he was gone on Friday night. So as far as being hopeful, I would have loved to have been surprised, you know? But I already knew that he was gone."
Still, the Coast Guard, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and even family and friends kept searching.
On Monday, a fisherman found Vernon's' body in the Trout River.
It's a loss even more painful, Andrea said, because it didn't have to happen.
"Vernon wasn't sick. Vernon wasn't committing a crime. Vernon wasn't even, I can't even say at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people," she said. "He broke down. It's a simple as that. And from there he's gone."
Andrea said she's trying to deal with knowing she'll have to live life without her husband -- her two children without a father. But she said it's her faith in God that gives her strength.
"I have no idea how it'll be fixed," Andrea said. "But what I do know is that God is faithful to us."
Vernon, 39, did not have life insurance, so his family is working to raise money through a gofundme.com account to help support his wife and two children and pay for his funeral, which will be held at noon Tuesday at Church of Jacksonville at 8313 Bay Center Road.
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