The seven-month search for her missing brother showed Kelly Johnson the dedication and skill of state Department of Natural Resources searchers -- but she said it also showed her how ill-equipped they were.
In response, she and a friend have organized a fundraising oyster roast in memory of her brother, commercial fisherman Mitchell Gibson, with most of the proceeds being used to buy new equipment for the DNR.
Gibson disappeared March 12, 2016 after going out on Lake Russell to fish. When he didn't show up at the Beer Garden Landing the following morning, when he was expected to, someone reported him missing.
Gibson's family searched alongside DNR divers and on their own for seven months, and hired a private sonar operator who searched for about two weeks before finding Gibson's body Oct. 26, 2016.
Throughout the seven months, Johnson said they found a coat and cellphone belonging to Gibson, along with some debris including a life jacket and a bucket that would have been aboard his 24-foot SeaArk boat -- which has still not been recovered. While searching, they also found other boats stranded at the bottom of the lake, she said.
"It's been a long year," she said. "How can we find all these other boats, find him and still not find his boat?"
Johnson has paired up with Jenny Pierce to moderate a Facebook page called Upstate SC Crime Victims, which aims to promote resources and avenues for people affected by crime to seek help. Together, the two have organized the fundraiser to help buy sonar equipment for the DNR that can scan under and beside the boat and generate a 3D image of what's being see. Johnson said the equipment will cost about $4,000.
If there are funds remaining, she said they would like to buy a camera that can be dropped underwater to confirm what sonar is detecting, along with crates and life jackets for the dogs with S.C. Foothills Search and Rescue, who helped with the search for Gibson.
"We're just trying to do what we can to help them," Pierce said, "so no family has to wait through the seven months of torment that Mitchell's family went through."
The oyster roast will be from 6-10 p.m. March 11 at McConnell Hall -- 3502 Midway Road, Anderson. There will be live music, raffles and silent auctions -- featuring a Clemson football signed by coaches Dabo Swinney and Danny Ford.
Tickets are available online at bit.ly/2lQwnoc, or can be bought directly from either Pierce or Johnson by calling 864-844-3602 or 864-276-1816, or sending an email to UpstateSCCrimeVictims@gmail.com.
Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.
Want to go?
What:Oyster roast fundraiser in memory of fisherman Mitchell Gibson
When:6-10 p.m. March 11
Where:McConnell Hall, 3502 Midway Road, Anderson
Cost:$35 for ages 16 and older, $15 for ages 7-15 and free for children ages 6 and under
How to purchase:Visit bit.ly/2lQwnoc, call 864-844-3602 or 864-276-1816, or email UpstateSCCrimeVictims@gmail.com