Memorial paddle out Sunday morning for firefighter lost at sea 2 years ago

Brian McCluney and his friend Justin Walker disappeared while fishing off Florida's East Coast two years ago tomorrow. JFRD honors their live in a special way.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville firefighter was remembered Sunday, two years after he and a friend disappeared while fishing off Florida’s east coast.

Brian McCluney and Justin Walker were last seen Aug. 16, 2019, leaving a boat ramp at Cape Canaveral.

Their disappearances sparked a search that lasted nearly a week.

The only thing located was McCluney’s tackle bag.

Neither man was ever found.

Brian McCluney leaves behind his wife, Stephanie, a son and daughter.

“It’s been up, down, and all over. It’s been a roller coaster ride,” Stephanie said. “But the highs and creating the joy in finding the beauty within those dark moments help.”

They find comfort by talking about him every day.

“We speak him into daily life all the time,” Stephanie said. “Like, ‘What would daddy say right now, right here? I bet he would do this right now.’ Brian brought people together, and I like to continue bringing people together.”

Dozens of people gathered at Jacksonville Beach Sunday morning to remember McCluney and Walker.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department hosted a memorial paddle out in their honor.

Walker was a firefighter in Virginia while McCluney was one of JFRD’s own.

“His memory is not dead,” said JFRD Capt. Scott Jacobs. “He still lives in our hearts. He is still here with us.”

“We lost a husband, a father, a friend,” JFRD Lt. Paul Rigdon said of McCluney. “We lost our brother, but another thing loss also brings is friendship. It brings family.”

There are three crosses that share messages of comfort.

Stephanie said a stranger brought them to the site where hundreds of volunteers searched for the two men for nearly a week.

“My interpretation was one represented Brian, one represented Justin, and one represents God,” Stephanie said.

Brian was an engineer and paramedic at Station 31 on Hillman Drive.

“His locker has not been touched,” said JFRD spokesperson Eric Proswimmer. “His locker is the way it was the day he left the station. It will continue to be.”

Those who knew Brian best believe the paddle out is a way to keep his spirit alive.

“He was made for this,” Stephanie said about her husband. “This was his purpose: to bring people together. To bring joy into people’s lives. I just want to continue that.”

In Brian’s memory, people can buy special T-shirts and bracelets. All the money raised will go to a foundation called “Never Alone Widows.” Stephanie said that group is helping her get through this difficult time.

About the Author: