PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Family members of Willis Bell, the oldest of three family members that drowned off the coast of Stuart this week, opened up Friday about who he was, and the void his death leaves in their lives.
Willis Bell, his stepson Fernandez Jones, and Jones' 9-year-old son, Jaden, drowned off the coast of Stuart when their boat started taking on water and they couldn't make it to shore.
They left for a fishing trip Sunday. Their bodies were found Monday.
It has been a week filled with grief for the Bell family, especially for his widow, Nell, according to relatives.
Three generations of family were lost in one day.
Family has spent the week reminiscing on their lost loved ones.
"If he was here today, he would probably be putting his arm around you saying, ' this is my cousin,' you know? That's just how he is. Or singing a song," said Bell's niece, Beverly Bell-Barber.
"He didn't meet a stranger. He loved his family," said another niece, Phyllis Bell-Moore.
Phyllis and Beverly call Bell their cousin, saying it was his sense of humor to tell them he was too young to be their uncle.
He leaves behind 6 grandchildren and two children of his own, according to family.
Bell was a veteran of the U.S Air Force, a devoted husband and the life of the family.
"Everyone needed an uncle like mine. He was a unique uncle," Beverly said.
Beverly said he was related to the other family members on the boat by marriage, but loved them like they were related by blood.
Jones' wife, Michelle Jones, also spoke to WFLX FOX 29 over the phone.
"We've just been overwhelmed with all the support and love that's been demonstrated," Jones said.
"Without the help of the community and family and support, we couldn't have made it," Beverly said.
They're asking for that support and prayers to continue.
"Prayers for strength," Beverly said.
Family says funerals for the three family members are scheduled for next Saturday, April 23 in Lantana.
A 4th family member was also on the boat. Robert Stewart is still hospitalized in good condition.
Michelle Jones released the following statement Friday:
Expressions of sympathy may be in any form desired. The "Fish on Jones" Memorial has been established for those wishing to contribute. "Fish on Jones" was a project that Fernandez was working on to educate youth about boating, fishing, and water safety before his untimely death. Flowers may be sent to the Palm Beach Memorial Funeral Home in Lantana, Fl. The family would like to thank all of the law enforcement agencies, Palm Beach Memorial and the many other community supporters, clients, neighbors, anglers and friends that have offered their prayers and assistance during our time of bereavement,
Donations to "Fish on Jones" can be make to the Bank United Branch #265, account number 9853765448