The weather front arrived overnight, dropping temperatures thirty degrees in a matter of hours, heralding the onset of real fall weather with a sheet of cold, blowing rain.
It was the kind of weather that made deer move, ducks fly, raccoons sulk, and bloodhounds jump and sing with anticipation.
For most of us, it was a change in the weather we always look forward to, that first cold blast heralding October’s premiere as September fades into a golden sunset.
But that particular day meant the loss of hope.
When Buddy Myers walked out the front door of his home on October 5, 2020, it was a beautiful day. The leaves were turning, the corn and tobacco were long gone, and the soybeans were weeks from harvest. High school football, which was almost a religion in Sampson County, was in full swing.
Hunting season, which for most people meant deer, although small game and raccoons were on some agendas, was days away. Summer was not a complete memory, as there were still mosquitoes the size of small birds, but it was not long before a good frost killed the mosquitoes, hardened the pumpkins, and ripened the persimmons.
It was a beautiful day, but Buddy and his Great Aunt Donna were tired. Of course, a four year old like Buddy with two dogs will leave anyone exhausted. They lay down in the living room to take a nap and Buddy disappeared.
Donna and her husband John opened their home to Buddy when his grandmother got sick; she was raising the kid because Buddy’s mom, Raven, was a young single mom who made some really bad decisions. At the age when most people enjoy having grandchildren, John and Donna found themselves parents again, and they loved it.
Living with Donna and John, Buddy might just be a little boy. I got to know them over the next two weeks and years, and even though I never met him, I realized that boy was in heaven. Donna and John adored him. He had two dogs and many toys. He had a stable, clean and loving home as every child deserves. He had good food and the medical care he needed. John drove highway trucks, and like most little boys, Buddy loved big trucks. He could visit the neighbor’s horses, a short distance from the house, but still where Donna could see him. You can see his happiness, his comfort, in the photos. He was a little boy like any other boy, loved and probably spoiled a bit.
But on October 5, 2000, Buddy managed to get past a door alarm and disappear with his two dogs.
Investigators estimated that Buddy disappeared around 4 pm The Old Man and I were working on routine stories; Miss Lois had filed one earlier that day. Miss Rhonda was at the radio station, where she was every day from noon to 9.
Around 11 p.m., moments after we had all gone to bed, the phone rang. My publisher wanted us in Microwave Tower Road, Roseboro. A small child was missing.
The Microwave Tower was not paved back then, so dust clouds cut by the headlights rose above the trees. As we joined the caravan of speeding, anonymous vehicles heading up the hill toward John and Donna’s, people could be heard yelling “Bobby! Cop!” They didn’t get his name right, but that would change.
Rhonda and I traveled with two Wildlife officers to check out the paddock. We ride down a bumpy, broken road of red clay and sand, lighting the forest with flashlights.
I did the last edition of the morning paper and was back on the scene the next morning.
The world had changed.
The old Ford dealership had been converted into an emergency headquarters. Seekers from all over the East Coast began arriving, pitching tents, grabbing a bottle of water or a cup of coffee, then heading behind local residents to check out hunting trails, trails and logging roads. Donna and the family waited under the canopy that once sheltered the gleaming F-150, Mustang and Fairlane. The Highway Patrol brought in a helicopter, and TV stations vied for space with their RVs converted into remote studios. Somewhere I have a photo my photographer took of a younger me, jeans tucked into boots, knife on my hip, sleeve rolled up showing bloody scratches as I handwrite an update for a phone call. The photographer was a beautiful leggy blonde who arched her eyebrows as she ran across a field and jumped into my arms, excited that one of the teams had found what they thought was a trail.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t Buddy’s trail. Just like when someone found footprints that he attributed to his dogs, and when someone else found a toy that was positively identified as his, there was nothing. A little boy had vanished into thin air.
People don’t disappear; someday, God’s children will, but this was not a massive, biblical rapture. Crystal Soles, Buddy Myers, Brittanee Drexall, Brian Robinson, Jaime Southgate, Jessica Lowery, Jennifer Huggins, Brandon McDonald, Timeka Pridgen and Zebb Quinn didn’t just disappear.
People don’t just disappear, especially little kids who finally have a future, little kids with dogs and toys and families who love them.
But Buddy disappeared.
I got too close to the Buddy Myers disappearance story. It’s a basic tenet of the new business that you have to stay objective, but I caught the same fever as everyone else. This was our little boy. Even if you had no idea who the Myers family was before October 5, Buddy became your little one.
Once you saw the hope bobbing up and down on Donna’s face, or the cars arriving with fried chicken, potato salad, pizza, pecan pie, and prayer, the equivalent of an entire church welcome party, or the vans loaded with five-gallon cans of donated food. Fueling ATVs, hauling more than the law allows, and filling the sometimes still hot tanks of weary, heather-battered crews: once spending a few minutes in this community of strangers turned family, Buddy he also became her little boy.
Buddy is just one of many kids of all ages that Monica Caison never forgets. I met Monica on the second or third day of the search. She was a braggart woman who complained about my lifelong friend, the police chief, a veteran police officer of over thirty years. At first I wasn’t sure what kind of person I was dealing with (she had the temerity to poke him in the chest with her finger, after all), but it didn’t take long for me to realize that Monica was there for the family, as she did. It was and is for every family when someone disappears.
She was the one who taught me that everyone who has disappeared is someone’s child.
Searchers scoured the swamps, ponds, and woods around Microwave Tower Road, but never found Buddy. When the cold front rolled in, bringing the promise of a great start to hunting season, the deputy chief called everyone, media and prospectors alike, to what had been the Ford dealership garage.
The search was narrowing, he said. The weather was getting worse and tornadoes were possible. She thanked everyone for their work and promised that the search would continue.
The next day was raw, bitter and windy. I looked back, not knowing what else to do. Only a few seekers remained.
The following Sunday, my mother went to the news conference at the Myers house and was the first person to see Buddy’s dogs as they trotted across the yard, days after the boy had gone missing.
Buddy would now be 26 years old. He could have been a soldier, a truck driver like his uncle John, an athlete, a cowboy, a teacher. He could have been a law enforcement officer, a firefighter, or a medical student hoping to help people. Buddy could have been married and even a father now, waiting for hunting season to start, or scheduling work around Dixie youth league football, soccer, and baseball practice.
But instead, he will always be a little boy who disappeared on a beautiful October day in the year 2000.
Yellow ribbons didn’t take long to adorn doors and lampposts in the days after Buddy disappeared. They lay there for years, fading and unraveling, threads lost to birds’ nests and breezes.
The yellow ribbons are gone, as are many of the memories of those days in October, but for many of us, we will never forget when a group of strangers came together for a missing person who became everyone’s son.
Buddy’s disappearance is considered a cold but active case. If you have any information on Tristan Buddy Myers, please contact the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office.