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Fire Department divers recovered the body of a man yesterday from Boston Harbor near Long Wharf.
Fire Department divers recovered the body of a man yesterday from Boston Harbor near Long Wharf. (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)

Body identified as missing sailor

No sign of trauma found, official says

Boston police confirmed last night that the body pulled yesterday from Boston Harbor was that of missing sailor Dustin Willis, a 26-year-old petty officer who had last been seen near Quincy Market during the snowstorm Friday night.

Willis's father, Tony, said he was devastated by the news.

"It was pretty hard to take, but it's good just to know where my son is instead of him being a missing person," Willis said last night when reached by phone in Virginia, where he said he had just hit a deer on the road. He said he last saw his son about a month ago. He is headed to Boston and expects to identify the body today.

Until he was notified yesterday, Tony Willis said he had hoped his son would be found alive.

"I didn't want it to turn out this way," he said. "I think they found his body right there at the pier. I'm sure he was trying to get back to the boat. I knew he didn't walk away.

"I'm just glad that he wasn't harmed by somebody else and hurt by somebody else," Willis said. "It went through our mind a lot that he was jumped or killed or something like that. At least, we can bring him home and give him a proper burial." Before the identity was confirmed, a public safety official with direct knowledge of the case said yesterday that there was no significant trauma on the body, which did not appear to have been in the water for more than a few days.

Hours after the body was recovered, Doris Jackson, who is married to Dustin Willis's grandfather, said her husband was so upset she had to buy medication to help him cope.

"We're devastated," she said. "We have a grandson that probably we'll never see again and also a little child who doesn't have a father who he adored. The country lost a great young man who . . . loved his country and loved the Navy."

Willis became separated from shipmates outside the Black Rose pub in Quincy Market about 11 p.m. Friday while chatting on the phone with his girlfriend.

Commanders on the USS Donald Cook , which docked in South Boston for St. Patrick's Day weekend and left yesterday, reported Willis missing when he didn't return to the ship as expected on Sunday morning.

Fire Department divers found the body yesterday afternoon shortly before 1 p.m. in 22 feet of water at the end of Long Wharf. Willis's cellphone was found between midnight and 1 a.m. Saturday about 100 yards away, outside a Legal Sea Foods restaurant, according to Lieutenant Paul Brawley, a Navy spokesman.

Brawley said he believes that Willis was sober when he disappeared.

"The indication that we had, based on conversations [Willis had] with his father and his girlfriend, was he was in full charge of his faculties," Brawley said. "There was no slurring."

"This is a young man who had a spotless record," he added, adding that last week Willis was honored with a Navy achievement medal for superior performance.

While Davis said there was no indication of foul play in Willis's disappearance, investigators still treated the area where the body was recovered as a potential crime scene and documented the underwater scene with a camera.

The body was taken to the state medical examiner's office for official identification and to determine the cause of death.

Several onlookers, including Navy officials, watched the grim effort to pull the remains from the harbor.

As the body was carried to a black hearse, Alice Quigley , a member of the Navy League who visited the destroyer over the weekend, stood silently with her right hand over her heart.

"It breaks my heart," she said. "On that ship, they are a family."

Globe correspondent Khristopher Flack contributed to this report. Smalley can be reached at ssmalley@globe.com; Ellement at ellement@globe.com.

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