KERSHAW COUNTY, S.C. -- Late Sunday night the Kershaw County coroner confirmed the bodies found in a submerged car on Interstate 20 belonged to two missing Catawba County teens, and the news was tough to hear for friends on Monday.
Jake Ziegler and Ray Pierce disappeared while heading to Myrtle Beach in a green Pontiac on October 13. Their last text showed a map of their route, which included the portion of I-20 where they were found.
A search team from the CUE Center for Missing Persons found the Pontiac’s bumper with a license tag matching the boys’ missing car on an embankment leading down to the Wateree River around 4:20 Sunday afternoon.
The river runs under I-20, and the car was submerged in the water between the two bridges on the highway, as if it had rolled down the grassy median before landing in the river.
The crew of about a dozen people from the CUE center had been searching for the teens for 15 days.
“I knew they were here, they had to be here,” said Monica Caison, the center’s director. The search crews had been looking in the area Sunday morning, but Caison said a gut feeling led her back to check again.
“We went back for a second time because I felt strongly about the bridges, and felt we had to do a little bit better,” she said. “That’s when we discovered the bumper that had the tag on it.”
Caison said she spoke to both boys’ families Sunday, and shared their grief. She said both families thanked her for the search.
“We don’t have any other answers,” Caison said she told them, “but now you know they're no longer lost, and that's what this is all about.”
An autopsy was expected on the boys Monday.
Reality sets in
Monday, meanwhile, was a day of remembrance for the two teens. For friends and family, it wasn’t the outcome they were hoping for.
“I heard it last night and it still hasn't really hit me," said friend Taylor Stryker.
Stryker went to the junior prom with Ray and was planning to go with him to the senior prom, too.
"It's the hardest thing I've ever gone through in my entire life,” she added. “I just don’t know what I'm going to do without him."
Students painted the teens’ parking spots in their memory at school on Monday.
"I remember them (saying) ‘We got those spots, we got them all so we could all be next to each other’ and now they’re not going to be there. It’s going to be difficult," said senior and friend Salvatore Lepore.
The families are planning a joint funeral service.
"To come out with this outcome, it’s better since we know now,” added friend Deanna Melton. “It’s real tragic."