Royal Caribbean did not permit Jennifer Hagel back into her cabin after blood was discovered on the awning below the cabin. No one on the ship explained to Jennifer that she had been found unconscious on the floor near a stairwell early in the morning, or that her husband’s blood was covering the awning.
Eventually, the cruise line permitted Ms. Hagel to call her parents back in Connecticut to tell them that George was missing from the cruise ship. It must have been a terrible ordeal for a father several thousands of miles away to listen to his daughter consumed with grief and confusion on the other end of a long distance telephone call.
The hardest call to be made, however, was yet to be made. Jennifer’s father, John Hagel, was tasked with having to call the Smith family and tell them that their son had vanished from the Royal Caribbean ship.
George’s mother, Maureen Smith, later told CBS News: "6:30 in the morning the phone rang, and I heard this crying on the phone and it was Jennifer’s father . . . he was sobbing uncontrollably and he said, ‘Something terrible has happened to George on the cruise ship. He’s missing.’"
This news must have torn the Smith family’s hearts into millions of frantic little pieces.
Just ten days earlier George and Jennifer were happy newlyweds about to embark on a honeymoon cruise not to mention the rest of their lives. George was poised to take over his father’s wine and liquor store, and Jennifer who had obtained her Master’s Degree in teaching was about to begin her career as an elementary school teacher in Westport. And now the Smiths were were being told that George had somehow disappeared somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.
Of course, neither John Hagel nor his daughter had any details of what happened, other than being told that George could not be found on the cruise ship.
Royal Caribbean would prove to be less than forthcoming regarding the happenings in and around George’s cabin on the morning in question.
Royal Caribbean knew that George’s blood covered the awning below his cabin. The cruise line knew that passengers on both sides of his cabin had complained of noises in the cabin, an argument on the balcony, and things being thrown against the cabin walls. It knew that its security logs recorded that when security personnel arrived at the Smith’s cabin around 4:30 AM, the time that George probably went overboard, a guard observed "teens leaving the area."
But the cruise line would tell the Smith and Hagel families nothing.
George’s sister Bree Smith told CBS News that she she repeatedly asked the cruise line whether they had searched the ship: "And they said, ‘Yes we searched the boat.’ I said, ‘Well continue to search the boat, my brother has to be there.’ They knew otherwise. Because they knew about the blood on the overhang. But they never told us about the blood on the overhang."
George Smith was not the first person to disappear from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. This cruise line had been faced with overboards under suspicious circumstances before. Its game plan was to stay tight lipped. Just nine months earlier, a crew member went overboard from the same cruise ship, the Brilliance of the Seas. Although many crewmembers suspected a murder, the case never even made its way into a single newspaper.
Royal Caribbean’s response was to keep the dead crewmember’s family in the dark and hope that they would forget about it. This would be the cruise line’s game plan for George Smith’s disappearance too.
This article is part of a series of articles this week: Disappearance of George Smith IV – Six Years Later.
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Photo credits: MSNBC