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Family Of Missing NFL Player Calls Off Search

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Published:   |   Updated: March 24, 2013 at 04:07 AM
TAMPA -

The family of National Football League player Marquis Cooper, one of three men missing after a boat capsized in the Gulf on Saturday, is calling off the search for their son.

In a written statement Friday, Cooper's father, Bruce, said he had received "new information" that led to the decision.

The official search for the missing men was called off Tuesday night, but friends and family members had been calling on pilots and boaters to continue the search.

In his statement, Bruce Cooper thanked everyone involved in the search for his son.

"We want to thank everyone in Arizona, Tampa and all over the United States for their thoughts, well-wishes, prayers and volunteer efforts on our behalf," he said. "We especially want to thank the members of the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Air Force, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife agency for their extraordinary and courageous efforts to rescue Marquis and his friends.

"We are beginning the process of healing. We are staying prayerful. One day the pain will be a little less burdensome. Right now, we just need time to be together and remember Marquis.

Cooper says in the statement that the family will not hold a memorial service and "asks instead that all of you memorialize Marquis in your hearts and thoughts.

"Marquis was a great father and husband and a great provider for his family. His daughter and wife, Rebekah, will be OK; they just need time to heal."

The Cooper family said it is making no further comment at this time.

Church at the Bay Pastor Hal Mayer, the Cooper family's pastor and friend, said closure has begun for the family.

"They're at a spot where they know what they're dealing with," he said. "Up to now, you're hoping, you're praying, you're not really sure what's going on."

The other men on the boat were Nick Schuyler, Corey Smith and Will Bleakley. Schuyler, the only one who has been found, clung to the overturned 21-foot boat for more than 100 hours.

Mayer said Cooper family members told him Thursday night about what they had been told happened on the boat.

"My understanding is now, basically, Marquis was the first one for the hypothermia to take his life," Mayer said. "They performed CPR and tried to resuscitate him. ... Corey was next, and then my understanding was Will was the last one [who died]. ... It was comforting to the Cooper family to understand how [the boaters] tried to take care of each other."

Though the search has been called off, efforts are still being made by NFL players to raise money for the families.

In an e-mail, Tampa Bay Buccaneer Will Allen is asking for donations.

"As you all know the families are in dire need of everyone's support to continue the search," Allen writes. "This email is also purposed to take some of the economic strain off of the families. There is food, lodging, gas, and transportation needs that aren't met. Myself, Ryan Nece and Dwayne White of the Detroit Lions; Michael Pittman of the Denver Broncos, Michael Clayton, Torrie Cox and myself of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and many others are all pitching in and doing our part for immediate financial help. We ask that you do the same."

Mayer said that while the search has been called off, money still is needed.

He has set up a search and rescue donation fund, which can be found at www.halmayer.com. Mayer said people can donate through the Web site or mail checks to Church at the Bay, 12157 W. Linebaugh Ave., #375, Tampa, FL 33626. People mailing checks should write that the donation is for "Search and Rescue," Mayer said.

The Cooper family's decision to end the search came as an investigator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission met with Smith's family. The meeting was part of the commission's efforts to let family members know how the investigation is progressing, FWC spokesman Gary Morse said.

An investigator has met with other families, but FWC spokesman Gary Morse did not immediately have information about who or when. Because the investigation is ongoing, Morse would not offer specifics about the meetings. A woman answering the cell phone of Smith's mother said the family did not want to comment.

The four men left about 6:30 a.m. Saturday from the Seminole boat ramp at Clearwater Pass. The weather was relatively calm when they left. The boat capsized Saturday evening about 40 miles offshore. The Coast Guard rescued Schuyler just before noon Monday, and officially gave up the search for the other three at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The commission is corroborating all the information it has, including an hourlong interview conducted with Schuyler on Tuesday, and putting together an investigative report, Morse said. It usually takes between four and six weeks to complete an investigation.

Smith and Cooper are former Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cooper plays for the Oakland Raiders, and Smith played last season for the Detroit Lions. Bleakley and Schuyler are former University of South Florida football players. The four met at a Lutz gym where they all worked out.

Morse acknowledged there will be a lot of eyes on this investigation.

"This is such a high profile investigation, because of the NFL players, and we have a responsibility to the families. They are going to go through quite a bit with insurance issues and possibly civil suits," he said. "It is important to have it right for their benefit and everyone else's."

In addition to the interview with Schuyler, investigators will examine the condition of the boat, which was recovered Wednesday, as well as weather conditions, what kind of safety equipment was on the boat and the seamanship of those aboard.

Morse said investigators would like to speak with Shuyler again.

"Normally, we talk to someone a couple of times," said Morse, who did not know when investigators might next talk to Schuyler.

Tampa General Hospital spokeswoman Ellen Fiss said today that the Schuyler family is asking that no information be released about him or his condition.

There is a memorial service for Bleakley at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Crystal River United Methodist Church in Crystal River.

A memorial fund has been set up in Bleakley's honor. Contributions can be made to the Will Bleakley Memorial Fund, c/o Mercantile Bank, 1000 U.S. 19 S.E., Crystal River FL 34429.


News Channel 8 reporter Mark Douglas contributed to this report.

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