Immediate Need: Investigation in Boston, MA - Underwater Recovery Effort


#1

Hi Everyone,

My name is Justin Billard and I am a Licensed Private Detective in Massachusetts. I live and work just outside of Boston and there is a case right now where OpenROV could be used in a very real way to help right now in a missing persons investigation. Unfortunately at this point, it looks like it will be a recovery effort from the water.

I have spoken with David Lang, who was extremely helpful and he suggested I harness the power of the OpenROV community, since a commercial Rstrong textOV is not yet available.

On February 13, 2016, a Massachusetts man, Zachary Marr was out celebrating his 22nd birthday with his friends in Downtown Boston. He left the bar in the early morning hours and has not been seen since. Authorities believe, based on video surveillance footage in the area that Zach most likely accidentally went into the water in the Boston Harbor. This area is protected from tidal currents, so it is believed that his body is still in a fairly specific area, although searches to date by dive teams have yet to locate him.

I have worked missing persons cases in the past, one being that of Franco Garcia, a Boston College student who went missing in similar fashion in 2012, near Boston College. I was heavily involved in that case, working 15 hour days for many weeks, all of my hours and out-of-pocket expenses donated by me, to the family at no cost. The authorities searched the Reservoir with helicopters, a boat, divers and sonar and did not locate Franco. Seven weeks after he went missing, his body was spotted approximately 17 feet from shore, in 9 feel of water. At the time, I had no access to an underwater ROV at the time. if I did, Franco’s family would have had closure much sooner than they did.

So, what my dilemma is, is that I am a trained Detective. Not an engineer or software programmer. I’m 36, so I understand and use technology effectively, but I can’t really just buy a kit like OpenROV and hope that I get it right. I am looking for someone who is in Massachusetts that may be willing to help by bringing an ROV that they already have built and help me search the areas along the shoreline that are of importance. Originally, I would have bought a Trident, which is user friendly out of the box, but the release date is still many months away.

So that’s it. If you can help in any way, please feel free to contact me on my cell phone (857) 523-0925 or on email at jbillard@downtowninvestigations.com.

I appreciate anything anyone can offer. I know firsthand what closure means to a family in this situation. I have yet to contact the Marr family, as I wanted to see what technical resources I could gather before I do that.

Truly, thank you in advance. -Justin Billard


#2

Greetings Justin,

I used to live in Cambridge, and every year I was there, this type of tragedy happened. Very sorry to hear it. As for someone in the OpenROV community in Boston…I don’t know of any who periodically post here, or at least say they’re from around the Mass. area. I would certainly think, however, that they do peruse the forums from time to time. I have zero experience in water recovery, but would imagine you’d need sonar imaging as well, do some transects of the area of interest and then dive a ROV at positions that seem of interest given the sonar hits. Might be able to do this with a fish finder…but I doubt it. And in this particular recovery operation, spend the money on a proper system to perform the search operation. You’re best bet is to contact the local Fire search and rescue and coast guard. I suspect you are posting here because they have already called it off. In that case, I’d get their list of equipment used in such cases and try to get your hands on that or petition one of the service folks to donate time/equipment.

If all of that fails, consider investing in a good sonar and ROV platform. Current systems that have been used in such situations: http://www.videoray.com/ , particularly with the Coasta Concordia tragedy. Others, the Teledyne Seabotix, https://www.oceannews.com/item/seabotix-inc

These kits aren’t cheap, but vetted by civil and military applications domains. I wish I was still around Bean Town and had a functioning ROV, I’d love to help out, but I have nothing functioning at the moment. Have you contacted anyone from BlueFin Robotics? They are in Quincy. http://www.bluefinrobotics.com/

If I think of something else, I’ll let you know. There is a chance I could get my hands on a new kit, and coincidently enough, I will be in the area for a few days in the near future. But no promises.

Can you supply any more data in regard to the search area? Visibility? etc. I’ve read the news article and the Charles is a rough river for visibility. I think the S&R folks are doing it right with the sonar sweeps before diving. Anyway, best of luck and condolences to the family.


#3

Maybe give Mark a call from http://soundunderwatersurvey.com/ he is in the area and has the right equipment for a search


#4

I agree with Jim, your best bet is to talk to local law enforcement/first responders to see what rescue dive teams are in your area. A good sonar, boat and skills/experience in underwater searches are critical. The ROV is used to rule out or confirm possible sonar targets. I’d also drop the folks at rescuediver.org a line to see if they might know someone. I know of a couple of dive teams here in NC who do recovery work, but not up in Mass. Good luck!


#5

Jim, Thanks so much for your reply! You gave me some good options to look into. There are units out there that are military grade, but the prices are astronomical. I try to help in these cases and I do not charge for my time or equipment, so for me to put out $5k -$10k for a military grade unit is next to impossible. If I was able to recoup even a little of the purchase price on a case for a client, I would definitely invest in a unit.

As for the Charles River, where it meets the Boston Harbor, it is tough as far as visibility, but with lights on the ROV, and it being such a narrow search area, I feel like it’s possible. It may take longer than if I was in crystal clear water, but that’s just the trade off.

I’ll keep you posted on this forum with what ends up happening. Thanks again for your reply! -Justin


#6

Thanks Scott! I will reach out to Mark to see if he can help or has any recommendations. Thanks! -Justin


#7

Stretch, thanks for your reply! Part of the frustration and why I even consider getting involved in these cases is that the Massachusetts State Police, Boston Police and others often do extensive searches with boats, sonar, divers and helicopters. They usually have the correct search areas pinned down because of other information gathered during the investigation, but somehow more often than not, they come up short on actually finding a body that is later determined to have been there the entire time. This is absolutely no slight to them, as I work with both of those agencies closely and have great respect for the work that they do. But their resources are often limited in both equipment and time. They definitely do the work, but the minute there is another need somewhere in the State or City, they are forced to abandon the recovery effort to attend to another case. It’s has unfortunately been the case a number of times now that the body is recovered in or close to the search area many weeks after the recovery efforts have ended here in Boston. I will even say that the agencies come back when they do have time to do follow-up searches, but it’s in a limited “as available” capacity.

That’s what’s frustrating for me, because if it were someone I knew that went into the water and it is a reasonable assumption that they in fact did, then I would want someone searching that water until the body is recovered. So what I am trying to do for the families of these people is fill the gaps, so that they can get the closure sooner rather than later. Hopefully getting my hands on an ROV at some point will make that a reality, at least here in Boston to augment what the police agencies are doing. Thanks again! -Justin