It should have been a special moment that would live on in the memory of Wesley Belisle’s family forever. However, when a wave swept the youngster out to sea as he strolled along, it became a day they would never forget – for the most tragic of reasons.
Wesley and his family lived in Manchester, New Hampshire. However, in spring 2018 the clan were gearing up for a vacation in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. And needless to say, they were all looking forward to the break.
The Belisle gang arrived at the seaside location in April 2018. It’s safe to say that their holiday got off to a flying start. During their first few days in Kitty Hawk they enjoyed days out on the beach and visited the town’s local attractions.
Wesley in particular, who was just four at the time, was having a whale of a time. “We went to the Lost Colony and saw the fort and hiked around the area. We went to the aquarium in Manteo and Wesley enjoyed every minute of it,” his family revealed in a statement in April 2018.
Relaying the special memories they had made with Wesley, his family added, “He really loved the turtles, sharks, and alligators. We also went on a wild horse tour in Corolla. He loved bouncing on the dirt roads, the dunes, and seeing the wild horses.”
Some of the most joyous moments the family experienced were down at the beach. Recounting the simple pleasures they experienced, the Belisles listed “collecting shells, digging holes in the sand, building sandcastles, and walking on the beach as a family with our dog.”
However, it was on that very beach that the vacation took a devastating turn. One day, Wesley and his mother were walking along the coastline when tragedy struck. A freak wave enveloped them, sweeping the four-year-old out to sea in the process.
Wesley’s terrified mom did all she could to locate her child, but to no avail. After one fleeting glimpse of Wesley she looked on in horror as more waves crashed over him, pulling him under again. Then, there was no sight of the youngster anywhere.
Describing the incident, in April 2018 Police Chief Joel C. Johnson said on Facebook, “Under the watchful eye of the attending parents while walking along the shore, a four-year-old boy was swept from his mother into the ocean and carried away by the current. As parents, this is our worst nightmare, even for those of us who love and have grown up by the ocean.”
In response to Wesley’s disappearance, the U.S. Coast Guard rapidly launched a search. The epic hunt took in no less than 130 square miles of water. To aid its efforts, it also deployed a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter to scan the area.
After hours of searching, however, the only sign of Wesley was his hat. This was discovered a couple of miles away from where he had last been seen. As a result, the Coast Guard made the tough decision to call their search for the boy off.
In a statement at the time, Captain Bion Stewart admitted, “Suspending a search for anyone, let alone a young child, is the most difficult thing a commanding officer in the Coast Guard is called upon to do. I can’t imagine what the family of this little boy is going through right now.”
Although the chances of finding Wesley alive now looked slim, locals rallied around to help with the search. One volunteer even spent two hours scouring the ocean from above in a motorized paraglider in the hope of catching sight of the little boy.
To show solidarity with Wesley’s family, some individuals made a heart out of shells on the beach. Over time, well-wishers left flowers, candles, crosses and teddy bears, too. They sat alongside locals’ prayers and their messages of hope.
Unfortunately though, there was to be no happy ending this time around. On April 30, five days after Wesley had been dragged out to sea, his corpse was found. It had washed up on Carova Beach, more than 30 miles north of where he’d last been seen.
Announcing the heartbreaking discovery on its Facebook page, Kitty Hawk Police Department said, “At 7:40 a.m. the body of Wesley Belisle was located by the Currituck County Sheriff’s Office on Carova Beach in Currituck County. Wesley’s family has been notified and are making arrangements for him to be transported back to New Hampshire.”
Extending its condolences to Wesley’s family, the department added, “We hope that the outpouring of compassion and offers of support, thoughts and prayers to the Belisle family from people all over the world can bring them some amount of solace in this time of tremendous grief.”
The little boy’s death sent shockwaves through the community of Kitty Hawk. Many locals were moved to visit the makeshift memorial for Wesley on the beach. Among the messages left there one read, “God bless this family. Please wrap your arms around them.”
Later, U.S. Coast Guard officer Jeremy Thomas told The Washington Post that “the rip currents in North Carolina are bad,” and commenting that there was “always a danger near the ocean.” Speaking of Wesley’s death, he added, “It’s just a tragic case. No one wants to see something like this happen.”
Following the outpouring of sympathy they’d received, Wesley’s family issued a statement thanking the Kitty Hawk community for their “beautiful tribute.” It said, “Our family has been devastated by this terrible accident and your prayers and well wishes are comforting us.”