MANATEE -- A body recovered from the Manatee River Tuesday afternoon has been tentatively identified as Patrick Mullins, a boater who has been missing since Jan. 27, according to Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
A wallet inside the man's pants held an identification card, said Dave Bristow, sheriff's office spokesman. The family was immediately told that an unidentified body was located.
"When there's a big search going on and a body shows up, that is obviously the first place you look," Bristow said.
Late Tuesday afternoon Detective Darryl Davis arrived at the Mullins' family home in the 5600 block of 43rd Avenue West, off Morgan Johnson Road, a neighborhood known as Lychee Acres. About an hour later he came outside, having notified the family that the body is believed to belong to the 52-year-old Palmetto High School media specialist.
Davis said between 10 and 15 family members and friends were in the house when he delivered his hard news. He said they held each other while he led them in a family prayer.
The assignment was special to Davis because Patrick Mullins' wife, Jill, now Lakewood Ranch High's media specialist, was his 11th-grade English teacher at Southeast High School and sat him down for a heart-to-heart talk that year, which put his academics and his life back on track, he said.
On Tuesday, he said he was able to do the same for her.
"I hope I returned the favor tonight by giving her some closure," Davis said. "I had prayed last week for closure in this case."
Davis said the family just listened to what he had to say and were braced for it.
"I would say they absorbed everything," Davis said. "They are doing as well as possible. This is a dark hour for them. Tomorrow, we will conduct an autopsy to make sure of the identity. I would ask Manatee County to rally around this family and pray for them."
Before Davis left the house, several Mullins family members asked him if detective was his second job, after preacher, he said.
Earlier Tuesday, before the family realized the body may be Mullins, several family members talked about the missing boater.
"Pat was serious but had a nice sardonic streak, a dry sense of humor," said Skip Miller, Jill Mullins' brother.
Skip and his wife, Ireen, flew from their home in Princeton, N.J. when they got the news of the disappearance and have been staying at the Mullins' home for a week, as have other family members.
"We are still hoping he will walk through that door," Skip Miller said about an hour before Davis arrived with his tragic news.
"Pat was very intelligent, but very approachable," Skip Miller added. "He was a great husband, father, brother and son."
Said Ireen Miller: "If I had to remember one thing about Pat it would be how he loved his students and how dynamic he is."
Body found about noon
About noon, a fisherman on a charter boat spotted the body in just a few feet of water in between Emerson Point and Blenker Boatworks and Marina.
"I saw something floating in the water, and we thought it was a manatee," said Tom Carter, who was fishing with his brothers and boat captain. "We called FWC (the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) and waited about 45 minutes until they sped up in a boat."
Carter said he remembered hearing about a missing boater.
"We thought it might be that person, but we weren't sure," said Carter, who could not find words to describe the incident. "My brother said he will never forget it."
FWC officials waited with the body until the sheriff's boat arrived about 12:50 p.m. The body was taken to the marina and brought ashore about 2 p.m. to await transport to the 12th Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner's Office. An autopsy will be performed Wednesday morning to make a positive identification and determine the cause of death.
The body appeared to have "been in the water for a substantial period of time," said Officer Baryl Martin, FWC spokesman.
Mullins was reported missing Jan. 27 when he did not return from what he said would be a "quick spin" in his boat, a 14-foot skiff, on the Braden River. The boat was discovered the next morning near Egmont Key.
The U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies called off their search the night of Jan. 29, but family and friends continued to survey the water.
"We've been looking this week, even (Tuesday) morning," said Kim Mullins, the man's sister-in-law. "It's been a tough week, emotionally draining."
Mullins began working for the Manatee County Schools District in 1982 and had been media specialist at Palmetto High School since 2004.
Palmetto High's principal Willie Clark described Mullins as an "intricate part of our school" who "really pushed recreation reading."
Neighbors already grieving
Word passed quickly between Patrick Mullins' neighbors on the tight-knit 43rd Avenue East and friends of the boater were eager to talk about him Tuesday.
"My thoughts are that it's a tragedy, but a blessing that they found the body," said neighbor Glynn Westberry. "I know it's a big relief for the family. It will give them some closure."
"He could have never been found," said Gillian Doig, who, with her husband, Derek, live next door.
Westberry said he is sad that Mullins worked hard all his life and planned to retire next year, at age 53.
"We've lost a great friend," said Derek Doig. "He was a hard-working man, a great guy, a wonderful family man."
Gillian Doig said superlatives easily trip off the tongue when it comes to Mullins, who lived on the street well over 20 years.
"Kind, sensitive, sensible," Gillian Doig said. "The word nice covers it all."
"He was a real friend," said Ray Tomayko, who lives across the street.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.