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A married couple who sold their home in Virginia to retire to a life at sea is missing after authorities believe escaped convicts stole their yacht in the Caribbean. 

The mystery has sent shockwaves through the family of Kathleen Brandel and Ralph Hendry, and the sailing community.

The couple was last seen in Grenada in the eastern Caribbean last week. Their yacht, Simplicity, was discovered “anchored and abandoned” on the island of St. Vincent a few days later, but they were nowhere to be found, according to the nonprofit Salty Dawg Sailing Association, of which Brandel and Hendry are members.

A preliminary investigation suggests that three prisoners escaped their holding cell in Grenada on Feb. 18, and the next day hijacked the yacht from the capital, St. George’s. They made their way to St. Vincent and were eventually recaptured on Feb. 21, according to the Royal Grenada Police Force. 

Grenada police believe Brandel and Hendry may have been killed during the hijacking, but they cannot say so definitively.

Nick Buro and Bryan Hendry say what happened to their parents, a retired couple who sold their home in Alexandria, Virginia, years ago to be able to spend the rest of their days on Simplicity, is unimaginable.

“This is something that is completely unexpected,” Buro said. “And wrapping our brains around it and trying to understand a senseless act of violence against two people while they were just living their lives in their home, essentially, because Simplicity was their home. They didn’t have another home…. And having that safety and security taken away from them abruptly and have them attacked in where they live, it’s just, it’s unimaginable.”

The brothers say that though they hold onto some hope that their parents might still be alive, investigators said there were signs of a violent struggle aboard the vessel: the couples’ possessions were scattered around, and there was blood throughout. 

“Shock, despair, fear, sadness, hope, love – all of those emotions are going through our head at the same time,” Buro said.

The brothers are in the Caribbean as authorities continue the search. Kathleen Brandel and Ralph Hendry have been married for 27 years and have spent more than a decade sailing around the world.

“They loved immersing themselves in different cultures and meeting people and spreading their love wherever they could,” Bryan Hendry said.  

The Salty Dawg Sailing Association said the couple had sailed the yacht in last year’s Caribbean Rally from Hampton, Virginia, to Antigua, and were spending the winter cruising in the eastern Caribbean. 

“This is a very upsetting event and details are still unconfirmed by the authorities, but this does appear to be a tragic event,” Bob Osborn, the association’s president, said. “In all my years of cruising the Caribbean, I have never heard of anything like this.”

The prisoners, ages 19, 25 and 30, were charged a couple of months ago with one count of robbery with violence. The eldest inmate also was charged with one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape and two counts of indecent assault and causing harm, police in Grenada said.

Authorities said they dispatched senior investigators and a forensic specialist to St. Vincent.

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