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Memorial fund set up for girl presumed dead

Joe Centers • Apr 16, 2013 at 2:07 PM

A Viola Francis Memorial fund has been set up.

Viola and her father, Jonathan, did not return April 6 after going kayaking in the Sandusky Bay.

Area authorities have switched from a search-and-rescue operation to an attempt to recover the bodies of a missing Sandusky man and his 12-year-old daughter.

"At this point they're presumed drowned," Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said.

Sigsworth said that presumption is based on information received from Francis' girlfriend the next morning and the recovery of kayaks later that day.

About 5 p.m. April 6, a witness called to say he was driving over the Edison bridge on Ohio 2 and saw two people in kayaks on the bay, west of the bridge. That was the area where the father and daughter were headed.

Then, about 10:30 a.m. April 7, two empty kayaks were located near Lightner Road in Ottawa County. A pair of shoes also was found near the kayaks.

"At this point the presumption is that they drowned and we're trying to give the family some closure," said Sigsworth, who added it appears the kayaks capsized. "Everything we've learned through the investigation sadly leads us to believe that they probably drowned in the bay."

Sigsworth said the water was about 40 degrees at the time and the individuals didn't have flotation devices or survival gear. Hypothermia, or lack of body heat, can set in quickly in such temperatures.

Anyone interested can make a donation to any Fifth Third Bank. The funds will be used for funeral and showing arrangements, said Timothy Snyder Jr., a friend of Viola's mother.

"People have been donating food and supplies for the search and we appreciate all of the help," Snyder said. "Anything is appreciated."

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