The body of 4-year-old Wesley Belisle was found this morning, five days after he was swept away from his mother and into the ocean in the Outer Banks (OBX) area of North Carolina. After hearing the family's heartbreaking story, residents came together to look for the child and send love to the family. They even created a heart-shaped memorial of seashells on the beach.
"I was out there saying, 'Just give him back.' Even if it's just to say goodbye," local Monica Wilkerson told News 4 Washington.
Wesley and his family were vacationing from New Hampshire in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Coast Guard said the child was walking with his mom along a beach on Wednesday around 4 p.m. when he was hit by a "rogue" wave and carried away by the current. The mom lost sight of her son as he went farther from the shore.
"As parents, this is our worst nightmare, even for those of us who love and have grown up by the ocean," Police Chief Joel C. Johnson wrote on Facebook on Wednesday. "Please join us in thought and prayer for this family as we mourn with them the loss and give thanks for the well-being of our own children."
Rescue squads combed 130 square nautical miles before suspending their initial search on Wednesday. Authorities then focused on recovering the child's body.
Many people aren't aware of the danger of sneaker waves—unexpected large, powerful waves—especially how they can pull you from right under your feet when everything else at the beach seems calm. Unfortunately, sneaker waves have caused a number of tragedies. In January 2017, a mom looked on as her husband and their 3-year-old were playing on an Oregon beach. The next moment, the father and son were gone, swept out to sea. In 2013, deadly sneaker waves were to blame for the death of three people in California in the span of one week. Experts such as Professor Tuba Ozkan-Haller from the Oregon State College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences are trying to develop a sneaker wave and rip current early warning system that could help save lives.
Wesley, the family's only child, was recovered at 7:40 a.m. local time today. His family has been notified and are making arrangements to transport his body back to New Hampshire.
"We hope that the outpouring of compassion and offers of support, thoughts and prayers to the Belisle family from people all over the world can bring them some amount of solace in this time of tremendous grief," Chief Johnson wrote on Facebook.