TIERRA VERDE — Family and friends stood near the Fort De Soto Park boat dock, staring across the water.
They vowed to return every day until 29-year-old Kevin A. Persad, missing since he went swimming Wednesday, is found. They gathered here at Fort De Soto Park, to weep, to console and to remember.
As they stood in front of a mix of television cameras, the family talked about Persad, a Lakewood High School graduate who worked at AAA. He studied fashion design at the International School of Design. He lived in St. Petersburg, painted and loved life, relatives and friends said.
"He could make anyone smile," said Matt De Oreo, who worked with Persad at AAA.
Persad was in the water with two friends near the north beach on Wednesday when he disappeared about 3:30 p.m., the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said. One of the friends, Michael Moyer, called 911 from his cell phone, deputies said.
Witnesses told authorities Persad was trying to swim to the treacherous southern tip of Shell Key. Bunces Pass, an east-west inlet known for its strong currents, separates the two beaches. He yelled for his friends to help, then disappeared.
"His friends told him not to go swimming there because of the strong currents," said sheriff's Sgt. Tom Nestor. "And they weren't about to go in there after him."
Divers from the Sheriff's Office and St. Petersburg Fire Rescue were in the water that afternoon, searching for Persad. The Coast Guard also had boats and a helicopter involved in the search. Since then, the Sheriff's Office marine unit has been looking.
This is no longer a search and rescue operation, deputies have said; since Thursday it's been a recovery mission, an attempt to find Persad's body.
But relatives didn't want to talk about that. They just want to find Persad.
"We are asking for all of the boaters to keep their eyes open," said Linda Ali, Persad's aunt. The family had passed out fliers earlier, she said, hoping someone would find him.
The family huddled under the shade of a tree, occasionally clutching a large photo of Persad at Disney World in front of Cinderella's Castle. Boaters unloaded their vessels nearby and dozens of seagulls sat on a dock close by.
Rosina Persad, his mother, said it has been rough since her son disappeared. She has stayed strong with the help of family, she said.
"Pray for us," she asked.
Ali said a "No Swimming" sign was posted near the site where Persad went swimming, but that it was partially obscured by bushes. She said the family would like to see that sign moved to a more visible location.
On Monday afternoon, a red sign was visible in the area near where Persad was last seen. It was about 50 yards from the main beach area and said, "No Swimming Dangerous Currents." Bushes covered part of the sign and covered most of a second warning sign.
Back at the dock, Persad's sister, Farah Persad, stood with the group while they talked and cried. Then she walked to the water's edge alone, staring at the depths, as if she was waiting for her brother's body to return.
Times staff writer Emily Nipps contributed to this report.