FBI launches investigation into missing cruise ship passenger
By The Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - FBI officials say they are investigating the disappearance of a North Carolina man from a cruise ship sailing through the Bahamas.Brent Smith, 24, was last seen around 1:45 a.m. Monday on his stateroom balcony aboard the Freedom of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean International. Relatives reported him missing around 8:30 a.m., according to a cruise ship statement.The ship turned around at that point to search for Smith, who was traveling with his brother, Matthew Smith, and his brother's girlfriend, said FBI spokesman Harry Rodriguez. Coast Guard crews launched a search as well.Officials said he was born in Fremont, N.C.The U.S. Coast Guard suspended a search for Smith on Wednesday, saying he likely won't be found.The ship docked Wednesday in Puerto Rico so that FBI experts could determine whether foul play was involved, Rodriguez said. He declined to say whether agents retrieved any evidence from Smith's cabin or other areas.Cruise lines reported at least 24 missing people from 2000 to 2005, compared with the estimated 10 million passengers that travel every year.The Freedom of the Seas, carrying more than 4,000 passengers, will return to Miami on Sunday morning.More than 100 people gathered for a vigil Wednesday evening at the family's church, Wilson Praise and Worship in Wilson, N.C. Its pastor, Cliff Lewin, flew to Puerto Rico to be with the family earlier this week."Prayer goes where we cannot. It moves the hang of God," Lewin's wife, Lisa, said during the vigil.She said Smith, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, was devoted to his family and made a point of attending all of his little sister's dance recitals.