Medical examiner identifies body as missing Bradenton boater Patrick Mullins; cause of death undetermined

ejohnson@bradenton.comFebruary 6, 2013 

MANATEE -- An autopsy has positively identified a body found Tuesday in the Manatee River as that of missing boater, Patrick Mullins.

The cause of death is undetermined at this time, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

Mullins, 52, was reported missing Jan. 27 when he did not return home that evening after a "quick spin" in his 14-foot skiff in Braden River. Mullins, who worked for the Manatee school district since 1982, had been the Palmetto High media specialist since 2004.

Mullins' boat was found the next day near Egmont Key. The Coast Guard and other agencies surveyed the area for nearly 70 hours, covering more than 2,200 square miles, before calling off the search the night of Jan. 29. Friends and family of Mullins continued to search through Tuesday morning.

The family was told Tuesday afternoon that people on a chartered fishing boat had located the body of an unidentified man in the Manatee River between Emerson Point and Northwest Bradenton. When the body was discovered, it was wrapped with a rope attached to a 25-pound anchor, according to the sheriff's office.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission responded to the scene, waiting for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office Marine Unit to arrive. The body was taken ashore about 2 p.m. at Blenker Boatworks and Marina in Northwest Bradenton.

While collecting evidence, a wallet containing Mullins' identification card was located. The family was then told the remains had "tentatively" been identified as Mullins.

About 3 p.m. Wednesday, the sheriff's office released results of an autopsy performed by Dr. Wilson Broussard, 12th Judicial District medical examiner. The body was positively identified as Mullins, but the cause of death was "inconclusive."

"It's not an easy investigation because the body was in the water a long time," said Dave Bristow, sheriff's office spokesman. "That's why we're going to do some additional testing. The medical examiner's office will do a toxicology test. After all of that, hopefully they'll be able to come up with the cause of death, but there's no guarantee."

The Mullins family issued a statement Wednesday morning that reads:

"The family of Patrick Mullins is in mourning. We request your understanding and compassion in giving us our privacy at this time. We wish to thank from the bottom of our hearts all the many loving and concerned individuals and organizations that have contributed their efforts and resources to resolving his disappearance."

Neighbors of Mullins spoke after learning Tuesday that Mullins' body may have been recovered.

"My thoughts are that it's a tragedy, but a blessing that they found the body," Glynn Westberry said. "I know it's a big relief for the family. It will give them some closure."

Family and friends have described Mullins as intelligent, kind and approachable with a dry sense of humor.

Palmetto High's principal Willie Clark described Mullins as an "intricate part of our school" who "really pushed recreation reading."

Detective Daryl Davis, who has ties with the family, was the one Tuesday to share that the body was believed to be Mullins.

"I would say they absorbed everything," Davis said outside the family's home. "They are doing as well as possible. This is a dark hour for them."

Davis charged Manatee County residents to "rally around this family and pray for them."

A private celebration of Mullins' life will be held Thursday for family, friends and Palmetto High School students and staff.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime. Herald reporter Richard Dymond contributed to this report.

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