By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
For the family of Clarence Wayne Holmes, the level and range of emotions this week has been overwhelming at times.
Holmes, 32 of Berea, was last seen on the afternoon of July 5, 2012.
An avid boater, Clarence loved Laurel River Lake. His family said he’d go down there every weekend.
On that day nearly two years ago, he was navigating Laurel River Lake near Holly Bay Marina when a late afternoon thunderstorm broke the peaceful calm.
In a Times-Tribune story from July 18, 2002, Clarence Holmes had made efforts to help another boater fix a boat propeller as the storm approached. He left to go to the marina.
“He told them that he would be right back,” his father, Arnold Holmes said in the 2012 story.
According to the story, Clarence’s boat was found later, idling in neutral at a small island near Marsh Branch.
He’s not been seen since.
This week, a new round of searches in the lake began. All for one purpose — to recover Clarence’s body, and to bring closure to a family.
“Sylvia calls me every day, and it’s really emotional for her,” Peggy Wooton of Noctor, in Breathitt County, said Thursday at Holly Bay Marina as she and other family members waited to hear the latest in the search.
“Sylvia” is Sylvia Holmes, Clarence’s mom. She’s also Peggy’s daughter. And since his disappearance almost two summers ago, Peggy added she runs into things that remind her of the happy young man who was the first grandchild in the family.
“I found a tape, and we were singing on it. I heard a voice on the tape. It was Dena’s (Clarence’s aunt, Dena Newcomb) voice. And Dena was teaching him how to sing, count and learn peoples’ names. Clarence was about one or two at the time,” Peggy remembered as she sat away from the bright April sun.
As cadaver dogs and later dive teams search the vast, deep waters and areas of Laurel River Lake, Dena Newcomb has helped be the calm in the emotional storm.
She’s talked to reporters the past few days. A native of Jackson, also in Breathitt County, Newcomb was at the scene back in the 2012 search for Clarence.
She grew up with him when the family lived in Breathitt County before Arnold and Sylvia Holmes moved the family to Madison County when Clarence was 12 years old.
As his aunt, Newcomb says she understands the pain Clarence’s mother feels.
“It’s like walking away from your kids. Imagine you can’t hear them, or see them, and the panic and emotional feelings set in. It’s that way for her 24 hours a day, all the time,” Newcomb noted.
As for the family as a whole, she pointed out they’re holding up for the most part.
“We have our moments, but it’s an upbeat attitude right now. We’ve got the deep divers out there now. We’ve got the houseboat out (at the marina), and my sister and I will go out this afternoon,” she said.
The dog teams came from Louisiana to help in the search for Clarence on Monday. Newcomb said the dogs worked above the area where her her nephew was last seen.
“They took the dogs out Monday night, just to see if they would hit, and they hit right away on a spot. On Tuesday, we took the dogs out again, and that’s when they started dropping buoys. On Wednesday, the dogs narrowed it down from eight spots to one area. The dog teams did all that they could,” she stated.
Dive teams, from Georgia, Florida and Tennessee took over the operation as the the middle of the week came. Newcomb said two new divers came Thursday to the marina to carry the search further and deeper.
“These two can ‘deep dive.’ They told Arnold the diver can go down underwater longer, they travel down a cable, and that’s how they keep from getting lost,” she said.
Almost two years since Clarence went missing, Newcomb said the family’s reached out for help by telling their story in cyberspace. By using the Internet to connect, they were able to reach far and wide to those who have had similar experiences losing a loved one in the water.
A woman named “Joy” was one of them.
Newcomb recalled, “On Monday, Joy came from New York. She coordinated everything. She was with the Drowning Network, a support group. She lost her daughter at 3:48 a.m. on July 5, 2012. The same day Clarence went missing. He went missing at 3:48 p.m.”
As the sun began to come out, and the heat began to ramp up Thursday afternoon, Newcomb was feeling encouraged as she looked out towards the lake’s waters.
“We’ve reached out to people, and we’ve found people that’s been through the same thing we’re going through. The morning’s been wonderful, we’ve got people praying and wishing us well on our Facebook page,” she said.
The Facebook page is called “Come Home Clarence.” Through the page, Newcomb reported almost 4,000 people were following the story and updates on the efforts to recover her nephew.
It’s also brought a fond, heartfelt appreciation for those who have worked on the efforts this week.
“All these people, the divers and dog teams, have been doing this for free. All we do is feed them. We’re Kentuckians. That’s what we do,” she said.
The groups searching for Clarence are expected to continue through Saturday. But the weather may not cooperate for some of the work, as rain and thunderstorms were forecast for late Thursday night into the overnight and Friday morning hours.
Markay Wooton is also Clarence’s aunt, and traveled from Noctor with Peggy to be with the family. While the boats and divers searched the lake, she had been mostly quiet during the interview, but she said something about her nephew that best described his outgoing personality.
“He was a real gentleman, honey. He never met a stranger, and he would never pass up anybody. He never thought he was better than anybody else,” Markay stated.
As she walked the dock of the marina, Dena Newcomb was calm. She felt a big break would come Thursday or Friday from the deep dive teams. But with that anticipation comes with preparing for what could happen next.
She said, “We have to sit and wait. You have to keep busy, and keep an eye out for Sylvia and Arnold. Keep reaching out, and do not give up. Don’t give up. ...Today and tomorrow’s going to be the real tough days.”