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Search continues for former Army Ranger lost at sea off Belize coast


Nearly $9,000 has been donated as of Monday to an online fundraiser to assist search and rescue efforts in Belize for Wrangler Leesman, who disappeared on May 1. (

A former Army Ranger described as a genuine “war hero” is missing in the waters off Central America, where he disappeared off the coast of Belize while kayaking during a vacation.

Wrangler Leesman, 29, and a friend were in a kayak off the coast of Belize on May 1 when poor weather caused it to flip. Rescuers with the Belize Coast Guard later found Leesman’s unidentified friend alive within hours, but there’s still no sign of the Texas native.

“There is hope because Wrangler is very fit and a ... soldier in the U.S. Army,” a post on a Facebook page dedicated to Leesman’s safe return reads.

“In high school, he was Mr. All-Around Athlete, always fit. He was just like Mighty Mouse."

- John Cantu

The waters off of Belize are dotted with small islands, reefs and cays -- small sandy patches atop reefs -- leading Leesman's friends to hold out hope he could have made it to safety.

“He was a good friend of mine,” John Cantu, 29, a high school classmate of Leesman, told “In high school, he was Mr. All-Around Athlete, always fit. He was just like Mighty Mouse.”

Meanwhile, roughly 1,000 miles away, Leesman’s friends in his hometown of Richmond, Texas, said if anyone can survive the harsh, rugged conditions, it’s the soldier who endured five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’ve always seen him as a little Superman, being bulletproof,” Leesman’s friend, Jimmy Bruinsma, told KHOU. “Wrangler is a war hero. He’s been on countless missions.”

Bruinsma served alongside Leesman and noted his exceptional strength and survival skills.

“Just a very strong leader, especially physically, real level-headed,” he said of Leesman.

Friends told the station that Belize authorities have allocated just two boats and an airplane for the search, which should be expanded, according to some.

“He served the country for years, he’s still helping out,” friend Chris Micheli told KHOU. “I believe the United States should be down there for sure searching — he’s one of us.”

As of Monday, nearly $9,000 has been donated to an online fundraiser to assist search-and-rescue efforts in Belize.

“Due to the limited resources, we are left to privately try to seek help and are hiring a private helicopter company and other means to do whatever we can to try and find him, hopefully in time to save him,” Leesman’s mother, Dee-Dee, wrote on “God bless everyone for all of your help and prayers. We thank you all for any efforts to please help to bring home my son to his family, his wonderful friends and, most importantly, back to the United States of America, the country he loved and served.”

Calls seeking comment from U.S. State Department officials were not immediately returned on Monday. Cantu, however, said he thought the hardy soldier known as the all-around athlete of his group will likely be able to thrive in whatever atmosphere he finds himself.

As many as 200 people attended Saturday’s vigil, which had a “somber” tone, Cantu said.

“One of his really close friends, Kenneth, talked about how strong and how tough he is,” Cantu told “We were all discussing what had happened, word is spreading, it’s picking up speed, which is a good thing.”

A State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. government is aware of the case.

"When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities and cooperate fully in their search efforts," said spokeswoman Elizabeth Finan. "We have no further information to share at this time."

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