JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While the family of two firefighters missing at sea for 10 days clings to hope their loved ones will be found, they focused most of their comments at an emotional news conference Monday, thanking the numerous agencies and hundreds of volunteers who mounted an intense, week-long search for the men.
Brian McCluney's wife, Stephanie, called it an "amazing job ... you did everything that you needed to do."
"I will never have the words to say thank you to the thousands of people who searched for my son and the millions of prayers," Brian's mother, Carla McCluney, said. "I will never know you, but I am in debt to all of you forever."
McCluney, a Jacksonville Fire and Rescue engineer, went out fishing with Justin Walker, a Fairfax, Virginia, firefighter, Aug. 16, from a Port Canaveral boat dock. The search began when they failed to return by 8 p.m. that night.
After searching 105,000 square miles of ocean from Central Florida to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the Coast Guard and JFRD called off the active search for the men, but that hasn't stopped volunteers from continuing the effort.
"No doubt in my mind that you did everything humanly possible to find Brian and Justin, including using the best technology and best people this country has to offer," Carla McCluney said. "We still have a glimmer of hope. There's still people out there looking now -- the Coast Guard and private volunteers."
"To all the volunteers, the army of men and women that poured themselves into that the past week, I see the hands and feet of Jesus through these men and these women," Stephanie McCluney said.
Stephanie and Carla McCluney said they have felt embraced by the JFRD family.
"I know firefighters love to fix things and make things right," Stephanie said. "They did. All of you guys out there on boats, you did. You did what you needed to do."
Carla McCluney lost her husband six weeks ago and is now dealing with the fact that her son may never be found. She stood beside her other son, Kevin, and daughter-in-law Stephanie addressing the public about where the family is right now.
"I just think we are trying to rest a little and let our minds and emotions rest. Some sort of normalcy for the children," she said.
Carla McCluney said Brian's two children, Brynn and Conner, haven't asked too many questions about their father, but she knows they will. She said they will try to give answers that will help them understand.
"Conner wanted to know if there were cookies in heaven and also wanted to know if there was fishing in heaven, and he thinks every time you throw your line out you catch a fish in heaven and that sounded good to me," Carla said.
Stephanie said that while she has faith Brian could still be found, her children have to be her focus now.
"I believe in a God of miracles -- you know that he has parted waters and seas -- but I have two children to think about and I need to give them some answers," she said. "My hope lies in that I know there will be a reunion, whether it is here or in eternity. This is a brief moment. Eternity is forever."
In addition to thanking all those involved in the search, Kevin McCluney, Brian's brother, extend gratitude to the Walker family for their support, not only over these last days but earlier this summer when their father died.
"Even among the loss, we find kindness and bravery in the bonds of lifetimes together when we are tempted to feel the most alone," Kevin said.
Kevin had said before that Brian had taken Justin out on one final fishing trip on their father's boat before they were going to put it up for sale.
Our hearts break a little more with every day that these men aren’t found. Yet they remain full as we’ve seen the love and support from the communities they served. #BringThemHome pic.twitter.com/FxLs9Z49tH— FOP5-30 (@TheRealFOP530) August 24, 2019
Walker's family left Jacksonville on Saturday but his wife, Natasha, is actively searching for Justin and Brian and is posting updates on her Facebook page.
Fundraisers have been held to help the families of the missing firefighters, raising thousands of dollars over the past few days. On Monday, Firehouse Suvs organized a fundraiser at their stores in Northeast Florida. Firehouse Subs said 10% of the proceeds benefit the families through the Northeast Florida Firemen Wives Foundation.