Families seek any information on fate of 20 missing migrants

William Justiz Martinez left Cuba with his wife Sept. 20. Whereabouts of the migrant couple are unknown.
William Justiz Martinez left Cuba with his wife Sept. 20. Whereabouts of the migrant couple are unknown. Contributed

Families of 20 missing Cuban migrants who disappeared into the Florida Straits this week reached out for any scrap of information.

“They’ve been gone for a long time,” said Norma Rayneri of Miami, who was seeking information on a 57-year-old relative who planned to “escape” from the island Sept. 20. “People are desperate to find out.”

Many of the people in the group came from the same inland community in the Mayabeque Province, Rayneri said Tuesday.

“Everybody is town is screaming,” Rayneri said. “It’s just horrible.”

The Cuban city of Bejucal is about the same size as Key West in permanent population.

William Justiz Martinez, 34, and his wife told relatives they were leaving Cuba on a boat Sept. 20. Their fate is unknown.

Martinez’s sister in Spain “is very concerned about the well-being of her Cuban brother,” said a friend from Cutler Bay.

Initial reports say a makeshift boat — described as a “rustic vessel” or “raft” — with 23 people aboard left Cuba last Tuesday, Sept. 20.

Three Cuban men survived to reach shore Sunday near Big Pine Key on Sunday. Now hospitalized in Miami, they told investigators that the boat capsized and sank last Wednesday.

“All agencies involved now believe the five people found dead since Saturday, and the three Cuban migrants found alive on Big Pine Key, were most likely all from that same lost vessel,” Deputy Becky Herrin of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported Tuesday that the bodies of two men and a woman found offshore of Islamorada have been confirmed as from the capsized vessel. So was a woman’s body Monday near Little Palm Island in the Lower Keys.

None of the five bodies recovered from Florida Keys waters and shorelines have been positively identified, said Sheriff’s Office Detective Manny Cuervo. None had any ID documents when found.

“The best way to identify them is to provide photos, or descriptions of tattoos or jewelry they were known to have been wearing,” Cuervo said Tuesday.

Information can emailed to Cuervo at: MCuervo@keysso.net.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206