BELTON — Another extensive search for missing Lake Belton fisherman Scott Weinhold will be conducted throughout this weekend, Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden Brandt Bernstein said Friday.
Shoreline and lake searches were the major emphases of the U.S. Corps of Engineers and game wardens this week as the two agencies divided the day in half to maximize the search resources.
Meanwhile, Weinhold’s mother has raised questions regarding the incident and contacted federal and military investigators.
Jennifer Florin said “some suspicious things are going on here.” She said contacted the FBI and the Army Criminal Investigation Division and “spilled her guts,” she said. She told them she believed there is a lot more to this investigation and that it needs to be examined.
Florin said no one seems “to be recognizing the red flags that are going up.”
She doesn’t believe that “it was an unfortunate boating accident,” Florin said, which is what game wardens have said.
The death investigation is being done by the Bell County Sheriff’s Department, according to Bernstein. His agency in Bell County does its investigations into boating accidents and drownings. The sheriff’s department is continuing to do its own death investigation — according to its protocol — in conjunction with the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s investigation. The two agencies will share information.
The weekend searches will involve side-scan sonar, dive teams and a towfish, Bernstein said.
Fort Hood’s aviation team is still doing daytime flyovers in the lake area.
The extremely large search area that is Lake Belton is one of the major obstacles confronting searchers. Friday’s search area concentrated off the main lake point — north of Temple Lake Park.
They’ve covered a lot of the lake, Bernstein said.
The game wardens are aware of the frustration and angst daily facing Weinhold’s family, Bernstein said.
“We will be here until Mr. Weinhold is located. We’re not leaving or giving up until we find him,” he said.
Bernstein believed the family was still conducting its own search for Weinhold, and said they’re not being prevented from doing that because “it’s public land and water — we’re not shutting it down and people have a right to be out here.”
The searchers sympathize with the family, Bernstein said.
“We understand. We’re frustrated as well,” he said. “We would like for him (Scott) to be recovered and get closure for the family. We’re not leaving until we get closure for them.”
Florin, Weinhold’s mother, talked Friday with the Telegram about her concerns with searches and the investigation.
“I would not wish this on my worst enemy,” Florin said.
Some of the issues the family has faced since arriving in Texas from New Hampshire have been very disconcerting and puzzling to the family, she said.
Searches were limited to only professional personnel and any volunteer efforts were pushed away, Florin said.
Fort Hood game wardens (part of the Department of Defense, Bernstein clarified) resisted the family’s search on the land within the base, she said. Once Florin obtained permission from Fort Hood, the family was once reportedly told if they got out of the boat they arrived in that they would arrested for trespassing, she said. Family members understood the Army wouldn’t be responsible for anyone’s injuries and were OK with that.
The family’s Fort Hood land search was called a “total waste of time” by a Defense of Department game warden, Florin said. That was the day her son’s jacket, fishing license and tackle box were found on land, and it was also the day the family learned his shoes were found Tuesday, Florin said.
“That’s not how we treat it,” Bernstein said. “The reason why we’ve consistently been out here for the last 10 days is we want to get closure for the family. We will bring all our assets to bear to find any citizen that decides to recreate here in the state of Texas. That’s one of our main roles and responsibilities.”
Searches by a volunteer with two dogs, offered the day after Weinhold was reported missing, were turned away by game wardens, Florin said. Killeen firemen went that day to help search because Weinhold was also a firefighter, but also were refused, Florin said. The family contacted the volunteer with the dogs, who has been a consistent searcher since that time.
“I find this very hard to believe. I’m so frustrated,” Florin said.
Florin was told one Fort Hood soldier was never found two years ago. She asked the commander where the search parties are now for that man and where they are searching.
“If you’re searching, your job isn’t done until they’re found,” Florin said. “Your job isn’t finished until my son is recovered. Therefore, your job isn’t done.”
Florin may have to go home at some point, she said. She has an open-ended flight, but she has a home, animals and a job. She is a hospice nurse. Her company is wonderful, but she may have to make some tough decisions, Florin said. She’s praying they find her son so she doesn’t have to make those tough decisions.
K-9 units — including search and rescue and cadaver dogs — have searched the land around Lake Belton.
Texas Department of Public Safety, Morgan’s Point Resort dive team and fire department and Weinhold’s family members have searched. An unmanned drone was utilized, as was the Holding the Line Guide Service.
Weinhold, Fort Hood Staff Sgt. Kelton Sphaler, 25, and a third man, not identified by authorities, reportedly were in two canoes on Jan. 21 when the canoes capsized in rough water. Sphaler’s body was found the next day in about 10 feet of water near Sparta Valley Park.
The Fort Hood Fallen Facebook page addresses the issues of soldiers and veterans — and their families — and serves as their advocates. A Jan. 28 post talked about Weinhold and his friend, Kelton.
“Tonight and every night until Scott Weinhold is found or returns home safely, our admins will keep a light on to guide his way. We ask that you join us in doing so and pray to whatever powerful source you hold dear for justice and Scott’s safe return.”
The Facebook page also mentioned an October 2016 missing Fort Hood soldier.