Swimmer found dead near Spotts Dock

Michael Gourzong, who disappeared while on a swim with two friends Wednesday evening, was found dead Thursday morning, about 30 feet from shore.

Michael Gourzong
Michael Gourzong

Mr. Gourzong, 24, who was the grandson of renowned Caymanian fiddle player Radley Gourzong, went out from Spotts Dock around 5:15 p.m. Wednesday.

His friends Austin Malyk and Demetri Chambers said they were swimming out to the reef just off Spotts Beach when Mr. Gourzong, of Newlands, decided to turn around as he had not brought a snorkel with him.

Mr. Malyk said he and Mr. Chambers continued snorkeling and eventually headed back to shore, unaware that their friend had gotten into trouble.

Juliet Forget, who was visiting her father’s house on the nearby bluff, said she and her sister heard screaming coming from the ocean near the shore and spotted a young man by the cut in the reef with his head barely above water.

Her sister got on the phone to police while Ms. Forget said she ran down to the dock to see if someone could assist the young man. She noted two men were in the water close to shore with their fins on and shouted to them.

“I … said ‘Your friend is out there and he’s screaming for help,’” she said. “They said ‘what?’ and swam back out to the reef.”

The two snorkelers – Mr. Malyk and Mr. Chambers – arrived at the area where Mr. Gourzong had been – but he was no longer there.

Ms. Forget said she and her sister believe they heard Mr. Gourzong screaming at the reef for about 10 minutes. She said her sister Melanie was constantly on the phone with police and marine units, directing them to the area where Mr. Gourzong was last seen.

After the two snorkelers were unable to find any sign of their friend at the reef, marine unit teams were called and arrived around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

A search involving police officers and Mr. Gourzong’s family and friends continued in the Spotts Dock area until early Thursday. Searches resumed around dawn Thursday in rough sea conditions.

Friends of Michael Gourzong react after learning about his death Thursday morning. – Photo: Brent Fuller
Friends of Michael Gourzong react after learning about his death Thursday morning. – Photo: Brent Fuller

RCIPS marine unit craft and dive teams scoured the area inside the reef, but did not find anything. Early on, police searches focused on the area immediately west of the dock because the current was going in that direction.

Around 8:30 a.m., RCIPS Sgt. Daniel Cowan began organizing search teams made up of Mr. Gourzong’s family and friends to scour the coastline.

About half an hour after the morning searches began, a marine unit officer on a Waverunner could be seen several hundred feet west of the dock gesturing down toward the water. A few minutes later, screams were heard from that area all the way back to Spotts Dock as family members realized Mr. Gourzong’s body had been found in shallow water about 30 feet from shore. The news was quickly relayed back to Spotts Dock, where dozens of family members and friends were awaiting news.

“We are all devastated,” said Rhonda Kelly, who was in one of the shore search parties.

Distraught family members shouted at Sgt. Cowan after he came onshore to notify Mr. Gourzong’s father and mother, who had been at the search site since Wednesday evening. They asked why police appeared to have been focusing on the area west of the dock, rather than to the east where Mr. Gourzong’s body was found.

Sgt. Cowan urged the dozens gathered there to remain calm. “Emotions are running high. Please let these marine officers do what they need to do.”

A detailed police statement was issued Thursday: “Within fifteen minutes [of the missing swimmer report being made] a Port Authority vessel, which was the nearest marine asset to the location, crewed by both the port authority and police, was on the scene. Uniform officers and marine officers also responded to the location. The police helicopter and crew, including the only available pilot, [who was] not on duty at the time, responded to the emergency call-out and arrived to the location at 7 p.m.

“An extensive grid-pattern search following the current and drift pattern and up to a mile offshore, encompassing the entire coast and reef line west of Spotts Beach, was conducted jointly by both the port authority vessel and the police helicopter. However, the missing man was not seen.

“The police marine vessel Niven D searched the area throughout the night. At daylight, the search resumed by the Niven D and the police helicopter, along with police rescue divers and a police-manned Waverunner.”

Police also added that the RCIPS helicopter searched “the entire reef area” to both the east and west of Spotts Dock” on Wednesday evening – including along Spotts Beach where Mr. Gourzong’s body was found.

“During that search the victim was not seen,” the police release said.

Mr. Gourzong was well known in the community as a football player in the goalkeeper position for the Bodden Town Sports Club, and at Savannah Cayman Christian Church. He worked as a mechanic at Car City, family members said.