Family, friends of missing airman don’t believe he drowned

This undated photo provided by Aviano Air Base shows Air Force Staff Sgt. Halex Hale. The U.S. Air Force is searching for Hale, 24, of Middletown, Indiana who is assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, who vanished last week in Italy. (Aviano Air Base via AP)

HENRY COUNTY, Ind. (WISH) — The aunt of a missing U.S. Air Force member from Henry County said Italian police suspect the airman may have drowned, but her family doesn’t believe that theory.

Detectives are examining a body found in the Adriatic Sea about 30 miles from the spot where Staff Sgt. Halex Hale went missing, the Associated Press reports. Hes stationed at the Aviano Air Base in Northern Italy and witnesses last saw him leaving a cookout near the base on July 22.

Canals near the base feed into the Adriatic Sea. Halexs aunt, Alicia New, said she doesn’t believe he drowned.

“We all just love him so much,” New said. “We just want him home.”

Jacob Bornhorst, a family friend of the Hales, learned Sunday night that police think Halex might have drowned after leaving the cookout.

“I don’t believe it,” Bornhorst said. “He’s a very responsible 24-year-old and its not like the sidewalks are full of ice over there and he could have slipped and fell down.”

Bornhorst and his neighbors in Middletown, where Halex is from, have decorated the town with yellow ribbons. Locals say its a sign of respect for service members and especially Halex.

“We care a lot about each other. We’re a small town. We’re a small community,” grocery store clerk Garrett Stone said.

Locals donated thousands of dollars to the Hale family. The money will help Halex’s dad and uncle pay for travel expenses. They flew to Italy Friday.

“It’s just a hard thing to imagine happening,” Bornhorst said. “For a family to go through.”

An Air Force spokesperson said the investigation is ongoing. Family members describe Halex as a caring man who’s loved his six years with the Air Force.

Italian police said it could be days before they can identify the body found.

The Middletown Church of the Nazarene is collecting donations for the Hale family and Papa Pepperoni restaurant is holding a fundraiser on July 18.

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