MANATEE -- Family and friends of missing boater Patrick Mullins were out looking for him in all manner of boats Tuesday, scouring the banks of the Manatee and Braden rivers near his home.
Mullins, 52, Palmetto High's media specialist, never returned home to the 5600 block of 43rd Avenue East on Sunday after he went on a boating outing that was supposed to be a "quick spin" around 4 p.m..
Mullins did nothing out of the ordinary on Sunday before he was declared missing Monday afternoon, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Dave Bristow, spokesman for the sheriff's office, said detectives have recovered a sales receipt for a purchase made by Mullins on Sunday at a store on State Road 64. Bristow said the items were products that were to be used on the boat. Bristow also said someone saw Mullins at his house before he went out on the water Sunday.
Mullins' 14-foot boat was discovered floating near Egmont Key on Monday, and a joint search and rescue effort by the sheriff's office, U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other local agencies is under way.
Bristow said the sheriff's office will analyze surveil
lance footage from Palmetto's Regatta Pointe Marina and Manatee Memorial Hospital in Bradenton from cameras aimed at the river.
The family is not sitting home waiting for the phone to ring, said Kim Mullins, Patrick Mullins' sister-in-law.
"Everyone is out searching," Mullins added. "We are not giving up hope of finding him and bringing him home. Everyone is out in boats today."
The U.S. Coast Guard reported a member of the Tampa Bay Pilots Association contacted the St. Petersburg station at approximately 10 a.m., Monday to report the adrift boat. The Coast Guard determined the boat belonged to Mullins.
Mullins' boat was found with gas can and other items still inside in the 30- to 80-foot-deep Egmont Channel, with no sign of Mullins.
Officials met with Mullins' family Tuesday to discuss details, Bristow said.
Grief counselors were at Palmetto High on Tuesday to talk with staff and students about Mullins' disappearance. Mullins has worked at the high school since 2004.
"Everyone is still hoping he will return safe," said Palmetto High's principal Willie Clark.
Clark described Mullins as an "intricate part of our school" who was enthusiastic about student reading. Clark said students were aware that Mullins was missing.
"A lot of them say, 'We have him in our prayers,'" he said.
Kim Mullins said Monday a tugboat saw the boat between Marker 8 and 9 and "that is quite a distance," she said. "That could be a two- to three-hour trip depending on conditions. He would never have undertaken that."
"The boat drifted to Egmont but we don't think he went to Egmont," Bristow said.
The family agrees with Bristow that something happened to Mullins in the Manatee or Braden rivers near his home.
"Absolutely, he did not go to Egmont," Kim Mullins said Tuesday. "We feel the currents took the boat out there after he was no longer inside it."
On Monday, six vessels from Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission; a patrol vessel, a C-130 airplane and a helicopter from the U.S. Coast Guard; and a search-and-rescue team from Eckerd College were searching for Mullins.
The search area as of Tuesday is 900 square nautical miles, said Crystalynn Kneen, spokeswoman for the U.S. Coast Guard.
"The Coast Guard searches as long as a possibility of survival is there," Kneen said. Kneen said the direction of the tide can determine the search area.
Mullins' boat was taken to the Coast Guard's Cortez station, and Florida Fish and Wildlife has released the boat to Mullins' family, Kneen said.
"We're just still working this thing," Bristow said. "We were hoping someone would call who saw this boat. That's why we put the photo out there."
Anyone with information about Mullins should call the sheriff's office at 941-747-3011, ext. 2535, or the Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg search and rescue command center at 727-824-7506.
Nick Williams, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Richard Dymond, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 6686.