Four Americans captured by pirates off the coast of Oman have been killed, according to U.S. military officials.
NBC News confirmed early Tuesday that two couples, including a couple from Orange County, are dead.
Organizers of the Blue Water Rally yacht race said passengers of the sailboat owned by Scott Adam and his wife, Jean, carried them and two other Americans, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, both of Seattle. Macay's mother, Patricia Dinkwater, lives here in the Bay Area and was said to be very distraught by the news.
Macay's niece, Nina Crossland, spoke to reporters and told them her aunt was both an avid and a smart sailor. The boat her Aunt was on was hijacked Friday off the coast of Oman.
"My aunt was not dead when the Navy Seals arrived on the ship," Crossland said through tears. She said she was told her aunt had been shot, and although rescuers tried to revive her they were unsuccessful.
U.S. naval forces were trailing the Americans' pirated vessel Quest with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and four warships and negotiations were under way when pirates fired toward the ship with a rocket-propelled grenade, the military said. Then gunfire was heard aboard the yacht; and when special operations forces arrived on the vessel they found the Americans had been shot, the Central Command statement said.
During the gunbattle, two pirates were killed and 13 others were captured, U.S. officials told NBC News.
"U.S. Naval reaction forces closed in on the Quest in small boats and boarded the yacht," Navy Vice Adm. Mark Fox said from Bahrain. "As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, U.S. sailors discovered that all four hostages had been shot by their captors."
All four hostages were found dead. Military officials said they had been shot and killed.
The LA Times reported that the bodies of the Americans were taken to a U.S. aircraft carrier, the Enterprise. The carrier was off the Horn of Africa early Tuesday.
"We'd like to send our condolences to the other families," said Nina Crossland, Phyllis Macay's niece. "My aunt is a very smart and avid sailor. She was living her dream."
It was the first time U.S. citizens have been killed in a wave of pirate attacks that have plagued the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in recent years.
The Adams, a retired couple, had been sailing around the world for more than seven years distributing Bibles. According to their website, the couple planned stops this year in Sri Lanka, India, Oman, Djibouti, the Suez Canal and Crete.
Masses at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica Tuesday were dedicated to the victims.
"Jean and Scott were faithful people," the Rev. Lloyd Torgerson, of St. Monica Catholic Church, told reporters. "They were people who had worked hard all their lives and decided in their retirement that they wanted to do something to make a difference in this world."
SoCal Couple Shared Passion for Adventure
The couple posted their 2011 travel plans and images from past voyages on the Quest's website.
Professor Robert K. Johnston of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena told The Associated Press that Adam, who last year earned a master of theology degree from the school, had sent friends emails detailing his international sailing trip. But Adam went silent Feb. 12 to avoid revealing the location of his yacht, the Quest, to pirates.
Johnston said that despite an adventurous spirit, the Adams were meticulous planners who knew the dangers they faced. The couple had sailed with a large flotilla to stay safe from pirates near Thailand earlier in the trip.
Adam, now in his mid-60s, had been an associate producer in Hollywood when he turned in a spiritual direction and enrolled in the seminary a decade ago, Johnston said.
"He decided he could take his pension, and he wanted to serve God and humankind," he said.
Johnston and Adam worked together to start a film and theology institute. Adam also taught a class on church and media at the school.
Since 2004, the Adams lived on their yacht in Marina Del Rey for about half the year and the rest of the year they sailed around the world, often distributing Bibles in remote parts of the Fiji Islands, Alaska, New Zealand, Central America and French Polynesia, Johnston said.