Jerry and Barb Heil of White Bear Lake
ROME - An overnight announcement confirms what was widely anticipated, that two of the bodies recovered from the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship in March have been formally identified as an American couple from White Bear Lake.
Italian officials say the bodies of Barbara and Gerald Heil were among five recovered from the ship last month.
At least 30 people were killed when the Costa Concordia capsized off the Italian island of Giglio after hitting rocks on January 13.
The wait was agonizing for the Heil family and friends, who gathered regularly at their church for prayer services. The Heil children finally decided to stage a formal memorial service after waiting for weeks without hearing from Gerald and Barb, making it impossible to assume they had survived the shipwreck.
On Friday afternoon, Gerald and Barb's children left a message on a family website, a post they say will be their final communication regarding the death of their parents.
Today we received confirmation that our parents, Gerald and Barbara Heil, have been positively identified as two of the five missing passengers recovered from the Costa Concordia several weeks ago. We will now be able to move forward and bring them home to rest. The rescue and recovery crew on the island of Giglio have been relentless in their mission to find the missing and have given us hope through this whole process. We cannot thank them enough for continuing to risk their lives in an effort to find our parents. Our hearts go out to the two families that are still missing loved ones. We will continue to hope and pray for closure for those families. We will not stop praying and following the news until they have found their loved ones as well. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
We have so many people to thank. We want to thank everyone in Italy who helped us find our parents and treated us with hospitality. Thanks to our friends, colleagues, neighbors, family and loved ones who were always there for us. Thanks to all those who we have never met who sent us words of encouragement and prayer.
We would like to thank the media for respecting our privacy. This blog entry will be our last post and form of communication with the media. We are very grateful for the wonderful articles and stories you did on our parents. They were very special people and you shared this in a respectful manner. We know our parents are together and are happy. We look forward to the day when we can all be together again.
Friends also say they're relieved to hear the bodies of the Heils finally have been identified.
The couple was active at St. Pius the X Catholic Church and were known for their service to others.
"The felling that I am getting and the feeling that I have is some closure, but you also have the opportunity to welcome both Barb and Jerry back home," said Larry Erickson, Saint Pius the X Director of Operations.
Jerry Heil would visit Diane Vorland, who is confined to a wheelchair, every Thursday to bring her communion and recite the rosary. And he offered to drive Denny Hardy on errands after Hardy lost his license.
Vorland says it's good news that the Heils finally have been identified after so long, and that the news should give closure to the family.
"I cried a little bit though. I thought I had overcome the tears, but today I am, all in all, happy that they finally found them because they were looking for so long."
Hardy says it's nice knowing that the Heils are now safely in the hands of God.
The announcement from Italian authorities overnight Tuesday is the end of what has been an incredibly painful saga.
"Five bodies recovered from the Costa Concordia have been identified," said a statement from the Grosseto prefecture on Tuesday.
The other three bodies were identified as Christina Matheson Ganz and Norbert Josef Ganz, both Germans, and Giuseppe Girolamo, an Italian citizen and member of the crew.
A salvage operation to remove the wreck, owned by Carnival Corp, is expected to begin next month.
Two people are still unaccounted for.
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