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Family shares final moments before freediver disappeared

Virgil Price, 39, disappears during dive off Treasure Coast on Mother's Day
Posted at 10:31 PM, May 20, 2024

NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. — Loved ones of freediver Virgil Price III are reflecting on his passing.

The 39-year-old West Palm Beach native disappeared during a dive on Mother's Day and never resurfaced.

Region St Lucie County

West Palm Beach man missing after freediving near shipwreck

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12:17 AM, May 13, 2024

"He had such a passion from a young age for the ocean. He taught me how to surf over there," said his younger sister, Brit Drozda. "I mean, it's just, his soul is out there. Whenever I come out here, I feel like I can talk to him."

She said she's been at the beach every day since her brother disappeared, praying for answers.

"Have you found it difficult to grieve not having his body with you?" asked WPTV reporter Joel Lopez.

Joel Lopez speaks to Brit Drozda, younger sister of Virgil Price III
WPTV's Joel Lopez speaks to Brit Drozda, the younger sister of Virgil Price III, while sitting on the beach where her brother taught her to surf.

"Yes and no. The mystery of it all is all-consuming," said Drozda. "Even if we found him at this point, if we found his body, it'd go right back out there. That's where he would want to be."

Family said Virgil was 6-foot-7 and graduated from the Benjamin School.

They said he had a passion for the ocean and, as a teenager, he volunteered at Loggerhead Marine Life Center.

They also said he was an athlete and had a love for history.

According to a post on the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office Facebook page, the West Palm Beach resident disappeared while freediving in the area of the Halsey shipwreck.

This area is about 13 miles southeast of the Fort Pierce Inlet.

Drozda said he most recently had been doing nonprofit work at Trinidad and Tobago teaching at-risk youth how to swim and dive.

"He was always more excited to see someone conquer their goals and catch their fish than he was for himself," said Drozda.

Picture of younger Virgil Price III and Brit Drozda on beach
A picture shows Brit Drozda with her arm around older brother Virgil Price III when they were younger.

She said she has two children who miss their uncle very much.

Family members said one of the last times they heard from him was when he called his mom, Kate Cerasaro, on the morning of Mother's Day.

"He goes, 'Mom, I just want you to know something. You are my inspiration in life. You taught me to look at the underside of the leaf. You taught me to look under the water," said Cerasaro. "You taught me how to laugh at myself. You were my inspiration in life and when I go down in the water, the first thing I do is say a prayer."

She said they had made dinner plans, but he wanted to dive in the morning.

"He was truly the most gentle giant and I don't know what I'll do without him in my life," said Cerasaro.

Kate Cerasaro cries when thinking of final conversation with son Virgil Price III
Kate Cerasaro cries as she recalls her final conversation with son Virgil Price III, who disappeared while freediving off the Treasure Coast.

A few hours later, his father got a call from the Coast Guard saying his son had been reported missing on a dive at about 9 in the morning.

"At that point, coming out of church service, it was 12:30, so I knew he was gone," said Virgil Price II. "He had a wonderful sense of humor — captivating smile."

He said his son picked up diving on his own and after 10 years of experience, he was preparing to compete in the world championships for freediving in Greece.

"If he had died in a car accident, we would be burying him at sea. God already buried him in the beautiful blue Atlantic ocean," said Price II. "He literally is where he's happiest."

Hundreds of loved ones got together Monday at the First Presbyterian Church in North Palm Beach for a memorial service to honor his life.

The church was lined with pictures and flowers of the diver, as the family shared memories on stage.

picture shows Virgil Price III freediving
A picture of Virgil Price III freediving is displayed at the church where family and friends gathered to remember the 39-year-old West Palm Beach man.

Virgil II took the tragedy of what happened to his son to advocate for safer rules and regulations for other free divers.

"Perhaps always having a spotter in addition to a captain or maybe air-tag technology that helps locate a diver at all times," said Virgil II.

He said in his son's case, there was one captain and three divers.

"I'm not saying they lost my son or anything like that. I'm not criticizing anyone. All I'm saying is I see a sport where they're obsessive about being freediving and not having rules, regulations or what have you," said Virgil II. "When they have international competitions, they have people that are up and down the lines for diving, so they can instantly help somebody who blacks out or whatever."

He said he's thankful for the search conducted by the Coast Guard and the sensitivity they demonstrated during the search.

"This is a wonderful popular sport," said Virgil II. "However, I don't want any other parent to be as grief-stricken as I am."

Family members said Virgil III was also a musician who often performed at E.R. Bradley's in downtown West Palm Beach.

After the service, his family said that his friends and former bandmates held a concert at the restaurant in his honor.

"If you had a message for your son now, what would you say to him?" asked Lopez.

"To put simply, I love you and I'm so proud of you," said Virgil II.