CAMDEN, S.C. -- The search for Jake Ziegler and Ray Pierce ended Sunday afternoon east of Columbia, about two-thirds of the way on the teens planned trip from Catawba County to Myrtle Beach, when a group of volunteers discovered the young mens car and bodies.
Kershaw County authorities confirmed Monday morning that the bodies discovered about 4:20 p.m. Sunday near the Wateree River, off Interstate 20, were those of Ziegler, 18, and Pierce, 17.
The two teens, seniors at Bandys High in Catawba County, had not been seen since the early-morning hours of Oct. 13, when they left a party and told friends they were driving to the beach to see the sunrise.
Family, friends and law enforcement officials had spent thousands of hours in the two subsequent weeks, looking for the teens. They had focused the search on the Myrtle Beach area, due in part to tips from psychics, and on Interstate 77 in Fairfield County, because the last contact from the teens -- a text sent by Ziegler -- came from that area, about 90 minutes after the two left Catawba County.
Instead, the discovery was made about 40 miles farther along the trip to the beach. Ziegler and Pierce apparently had reached the Columbia area and turned east on I-20. About 20 miles east of Columbia, they apparently crashed.
Authorities told reporters late Sunday that it appeared as if the Pontiac G-6 veered across the median and went down an embankment, stopping in a marshy area about 200 yards west of the river. The vehicle was submerged in about 10 to 11 feet of water, and the coroners office told The State newspaper in Columbia that it appeared as if speed might have played a role in the crash.
A crew of four searchers from the CUE Center for Missing Persons found the bumper of the car sticking out of the water Sunday afternoon. It was near mile marker 96, about halfway between U.S. 601 and U.S. 521, a few miles south of Camden, S.C.
Monica Caison, the CUE Centers director, told WCNC-TV, the Observers news partner, that she had a gut feeling to check the area. She said a crew had looked in the area Sunday morning but decided to return.
We went back for a second time, because I felt strongly about the bridges, and felt we had to do a little bit better, Caison told WCNC. Thats when we discovered the bumper that had the tag on it.
She told WCNC she talked to both families Sunday and shared their grief.
Kershaw County authorities plan an autopsy Monday.
Meanwhile, the discovery of the car was a low point in two emotional weeks for Bandys High students and staff. The schools spirit rock had a newly painted message, We Love J & R, on Monday morning.
Joe Pierce, Rays father, said he received the news about authorities finding the car while he was at the movies with his other children, trying to take their minds off their missing brother. He said his family was touched that so many people helped look for his son.
That county did everything humanly they could, he said late Sunday night. I never saw such effort in my life than what these people did. Still, as each minute goes by, as each second goes by, you start to lose more and more hope.
During the two weeks, people involved in the search walked along stretches of I-77 and on roads in Horry County. They also passed out fliers at Bank of America Stadium, before and after the Carolina Panthers game last week.
The (Columbia) State; staff writers Cleve Wootson, Elisabeth Arriero and Steve Lyttle; and WCNC-TV contributed.