Shane Montgomery's family: 'We found and brought Shane home'

A diver from the Garden State Underwater Rescue Unit after finding the body of Shane Montgomery on Saturday, January 3, 2015. ( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )
A diver from the Garden State Underwater Rescue Unit after finding the body of Shane Montgomery on Saturday, January 3, 2015. ( DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer )
Posted: January 05, 2015

Six persistent volunteer divers went back into the dark, frigid waters of the Schuylkill on Saturday, looking again for some trace of missing college student Shane Montgomery.

This time, they were successful.

At 12:09 p.m., they found his body in 36-degree water, 3 to 4 feet deep, near the riverbank, not far from the Manayunk pub where he was partying the night before Thanksgiving.

Family members - including his mother and father, Karen and Kevin Montgomery - were despondent as they stood on the banks of the river when the discovery was made.

The outcome had been foreshadowed Dec. 21 when the same divers from the Garden State Underwater Recovery Unit plucked Montgomery's keys from the Schuylkill just off the riverbank, about 800 yards upriver from the site of Saturday's discovery.

"Today we have done what we promised. We found and brought Shane home," Montgomery's parents told reporters and posted Saturday on their Facebook page, Help Find Shane Montgomery.

They thanked the Garden State Underwater Recovery Unit, the Philadelphia Police Department, its marine unit and Northwest detectives, and St. John the Baptist, the Catholic church that has been the gathering place for search parties.

"We want to thank everyone for their support, prayers, and love and ask that they continue to pray for our family at this trying time. At this time we ask that you please respect our privacy. We need time to mourn together as a family."

Family members have stood vigil at the water's edge as the volunteer dive teams and police marine units searched week after week.

The searchers worked again Saturday in numbing cold as a storm front came through, bringing drenching rains to the region.

"The family was very despondent," said Capt. Gerry Boylan, who directed the New Jersey volunteer divers in the Saturday search, "but they were glad that it was over, that they had closure."

Boylan said the divers entered the water at 8 a.m., finding visibility at 7 to 8 feet. He said they methodically searched on a grid, with a diver holding onto a rope off the back of the boat as it fanned slowly back and forth, from side to side, guiding the diver downstream.

In four hours, they succeeded.

'In God's hands'

A diver's hand went up in the air, signaling the discovery near the riverbank - and the end of a 36-day search ordeal that spanned Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

"There was a moment when you hoped it wasn't him," said Kevin Verbrugghe, Karen Montgomery's brother and Shane's uncle, a symbolic green ribbon pinned to his baseball cap. "But he's in God's hands; he'll never feel pain."

The family was washed with emotion.

"It's twofold," Verbrugghe said. "It's a sense of it can't be, and it's a sense that it is."

On the water, the divers were also affected.

"It's very disheartening, because you know there's been a loss of life," Boylan said. "We know the family has been hit hard."

The dive team, called in by the family, brought up the remains "professionally and delicately," Verbrugghe said. The police marine unit on shore took custody and the parents later made positive identification.

Montgomery, a Roxborough resident and a senior at West Chester University, was with friends at Kildare's Irish Pub in Manayunk when he was asked to leave after tripping into a table. Pub owners said shortly after Montgomery disappeared that he was not visibly intoxicated when he was asked to leave early Thanksgiving Day.

Video clues

That night was bitterly cold, and Montgomery wore only a hooded sweatshirt for warmth.

Videotape recovered later showed him walking toward a footbridge leading to a parking lot at the water's edge.

Montgomery's body was found behind the Manayunk Brew Pub near Shurs Lane and Main Street, less than a half-mile south of Kildare's, about an eight-minute walk away.

About 800 yards upriver from where the body was found, the same Garden State volunteer diving unit had found Montgomery's keys Dec. 21.

Montgomery's disappearance inspired an outpouring of public support, with intense foot searches on land, in the shallow canal beside the river, and in the river itself - as well as a candlelight vigil in Manayunk on Thanksgiving weekend.

The FBI joined Philadelphia police in their investigation.

Posters blanketed the Philadelphia region and beyond, in bars, restaurants, and convenience stores. Mummers who marched in the New Year's Day festivities wore green ribbons in support of Montgomery's family.

Contributions from family, police, and Kildare's brought a reward fund to $65,000 for information leading to his discovery.

Green ribbons drooped from utility poles and light posts in Manayunk's relentless rain as news of the discovery spread.

Gina Castle Bell, 31, one of Montgomery's communications professors, said she and her husband rushed to Manayunk when she heard his body had been found.

"We walked along the river to try and get some closure," she said. "When you say goodbye to a class of students at the end of the semester, you expect them to go off and do great things. You don't expect them to vanish."

She said Montgomery would have been in her winter public-speaking class.

"He was a great student. He always came to class, always participated and did great work," she added.

Castle Bell said she wanted to tell Karen Montgomery, her student's mother, "that we care." She said other faculty and many students had been deeply affected.

Msgr. Kevin Lawrence, pastor of St. John the Baptist, officiated at a regular Mass on Saturday afternoon after meeting briefly with Montgomery's family.

"We are going to keep doing what the family has asked us to do: continue to pray," he said before the Mass, wearing his own green ribbon in his lapel. "Our hearts break for Shane and his mom and dad," who he said were among his parishioners.

During the Mass, he asked parishioners to pray for the "repose of the soul of Shane Montgomery" and for his family.

"The support, prayers, love, and friendship from the larger community and from Roxborough and Manayunk have revealed the heart of this community," Lawrence said.

Numerous people hugged and comforted Verbrugghe after the Mass.

"I don't know if we can ever repay what this community did for our family," he said.


sballin@phillynews.com

215-854-5054 @sofiyaballin

Inquirer staff writer Mike Newall contributed to this article.

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