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American Sailing Couple, Presumed Dead After Alleged Hijacking in Caribbean, Remembered as 'Special People'

Authorities believe Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry are dead after their boat was found ransacked in the ocean

<p>Courtesy of Nick Buro</p> Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel

Courtesy of Nick Buro

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel

Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry left behind their life in Virginia about a decade ago for what promised to be a tranquil existence at sea, their golden years spent wintering on the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

But that dream life turned into a nightmare for the couple last week, as they are now presumed dead and their boat was found ransacked in middle of the ocean.

“Ralph and Kathy lived a life that most of us can only dream of,” their sons, Nick Buro and Bryan Hendry wrote in a statement released to PEOPLE Tuesday afternoon. “Sailing the eastern coast of the United States, living on their home Simplicity, making friends with everyone they encountered, singing, dancing and laughing with friends and family – that’s who Ralph and Kathy were and that’s how they will be remembered in our hearts.”

<p>Courtesy of Nick Buro</p> Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel with their sons Bryan Hendry and Nick Buro, who is pictured behind his partner, Kerri Fennelly.

Courtesy of Nick Buro

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel with their sons Bryan Hendry and Nick Buro, who is pictured behind his partner, Kerri Fennelly.

Related: Missing American Sailing Couple Is 'Presumed' Dead After Boat Found Ransacked in Caribbean: Police

Kathy – a retired real estate agent who would have turned 71 Feb. 21 – and Ralph – a 66-year-old financial advisor who worked from their yacht – had been cruising in Grenada when they suddenly stopped communicating with family on Feb. 18, according to their sons, who have been in touch with PEOPLE since before landing in the Caribbean to search for their parents last week.

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The yacht was reported abandoned in St. Vincent, with “visible blood stains” on deck, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Coast Guard Service Commanding Officer Deon Henry told the country’s police commissioner in a Feb. 21 internal memorandum obtained by PEOPLE.

<p>Courtesy of Robert Osborn</p> SV Simplicity was recovered by authorities Feb. 21 with an unrolled and broken bow sail.

Courtesy of Robert Osborn

SV Simplicity was recovered by authorities Feb. 21 with an unrolled and broken bow sail.

Related: American Sailing Couple Disappears in Caribbean. Their Yacht Is Found 80 Miles Away

“The entire interior of the vessel and its decks were ransacked,” the commanding officer reported.

The couple – whose bodies have not been found – are now presumed dead, authorities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines said Monday.

<p>Jessica Mause/GoFundMe</p> Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel

Jessica Mause/GoFundMe

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel

Related: Friend of Missing and Presumed Dead American Sailing Couple Says It Feels Like a 'Bad Hollywood Movie'

Married for 27 years, Kathy and Ralph brought to their second marriage children from prior spouses. Last year, Kathy became a first-time grandmother to 13-month-old Salvatore.

The close-knit blended family often traveled together, and Kathy’s son, Nick, and Ralph’s son, Bryan, are now searching together for their missing parents.

<p>Courtesy of Nick Buro</p> Ralph and Bryan Hendry (front) with Nick Buro, his partner Kerri Fennelly and mom Kathy Brandel.

Courtesy of Nick Buro

Ralph and Bryan Hendry (front) with Nick Buro, his partner Kerri Fennelly and mom Kathy Brandel.

Related: Friend of Missing and Presumed Dead American Sailing Couple Says It Feels Like a 'Bad Hollywood Movie'

“We live in a world that at times can be cruel,” they said in the statement. “But it’s also a world of profound beauty, wonder, adventure, love, compassion, caring, and faith. Our parents encompassed all those values and so much more. If we have learned anything from this tragic event, it’s that we know they left this world in a better place than it was before they were born.”

The three Grenadian fugitives – Trevon Robertson, 19, Abita Stanislaus, 25, and sailor Ron Mitchell, 30 – were arrested Feb. 21 and have since pleaded guilty to four immigration-related charges connected to illegally coming ashore St. Vincent.

<p>Royal Grenada Police Force</p> Ron Mitchell, Trevor Robertson, Atiba Stanislaus

Royal Grenada Police Force

Ron Mitchell, Trevor Robertson, Atiba Stanislaus

The trio – who were previously arrested for a separate violent robbery in Grenada in December – have not been charged in the couple’s disappearance. (Mitchell was also previously charged with one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape, two counts of indecent assault, and causing harm in an unrelated incident.)

The couple were described by sailing friends as devoted Christians and veteran cruisers who were cautious at sea. Longtime members of the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a tight-knit group of boaters who cruise the Caribbean together, they sailed from Hampton, Va., to Antigua in a rally last fall.

<p>Courtesy of Nick Buro</p> Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry, Nick Buro and his partner Kerri Fennelly and their 13-month-old son "Sal."

Courtesy of Nick Buro

Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry, Nick Buro and his partner Kerri Fennelly and their 13-month-old son "Sal."

“They were always willing to give help to anyone in need, they were very giving people,” family friend Will Knoll, who sailed with them on the rally, recalls in an interview with PEOPLE. “It’s just a tragedy that this would occur to them.”

Another sailor, Robbyn Bruni, recalled telling Kathy about her own experience of intruders boarding her boat in the middle of the night. Bruni said Kathy invited her onto their own boat for dinner and showed her a “panic basket" she had prepared in case of intruders.

“She understood my vulnerability and how nervous I was about it happening again,” Bruni tells PEOPLE.

<p>Courtesy of Nick Buro</p> Bryan and Ralph Hendry

Courtesy of Nick Buro

Bryan and Ralph Hendry

Bruni contacted PEOPLE last Thursday morning about the missing couple, hours before the Royal Grenada Police Force confirmed the escape of the inmates and their alleged connection to the missing couple.

“They are special people to me," she said. "And the silence is just killing me."

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Read the original article on People.