Police are looking for Erik T. McFadden for further questioning in the case of missing Charlottesville teen Dashad Sage Smith.
"A lot of parents and citizens are wondering how in the world can one of our own suddenly go missing," asks Dashad Smith's cousin, Kenneth Jackson, left, with Smith's grandmother Lolita "Cookie" Smith at a March 1 press conference.
Fifteen weeks. Almost 3,000 hours. Dozens of candles lit at vigils across the city. Countless tears. There many ways Dashad "Sage" Smith's family can measure the time since the 2011 Charlottesville High School grad disappeared two days before Thanksgiving, but none of them add up to the answers they need.
"We haven't gotten any results," says Smith's cousin, Kenneth Jackson, who, along with Smith's grandmother, Lolita "Cookie" Smith, held a press conference on Friday, March 1, in an effort to keep public attention on Smith's disappearance and to express frustration with the investigation they continue to fear is stalled.
With no sign of Smith and little information released by police since the unfruitful search of a Richmond landfill, the family's desperation is growing– and so are their questions.
In late February, with assistance from the North Carolina-based Cue Center for Missing Persons, Smith's family submitted nine questions to Charlottesville police. Among them are queries about whether photographs of Smith's apartment were taken immediately after his disappearance, whether surveillance videos were reviewed, and whether in-depth follow-up interviews with Smith's closest friends have been conducted. They also ask whether Charlottesville police intend to request involvement in the case from the FBI.
"We've gotten no response," Jackson told reporters in front of city hall, stressing that he and other family members believe Smith– who dressed as a woman but, according to friends and family, was not transgendered– may have been the victim of a hate crime.
As extensively reported in the Hook's January 10 cover story, Smith told his sleeping roommate he was going out before leaving the duplex apartment they shared in the 800 block of Harris Street around 5:00pm on Tuesday, November 20. Smith had spoken with both parents that day and had plans to spend the Thanksgiving holiday at his mother's house with younger siblings. Phone records revealed he'd had contact with 22-year-old Charlottesville resident Erik McFadden, but after police reached McFadden by phone, he disappeared.
The current lead investigator on the case, Detective Ronald Stayments, says the investigation is still "very active" but declines to comment on specifics. Police Chief Tim Longo, who met with this reporter in early January to discuss the case, did not return the Hook's calls by presstime.
Cue Center founder Monica Caison says she also has reached out to Charlottesville Police to offer assistance but has not yet received a response.
"A lot of times, families do need additional help, and that's why organizations like us exist," says Caison, who founded the Cue Center in 1994 and has since worked with 9,000 families, including the parents of Morgan Harrington, who disappeared after leaving a Metallica concert at the John Paul Jones Arena and being denied reentry. Her remains were discovered three months later in a cowfield on a southern Albemarle County farm.
"One of our goals is everyone has to communicate, everyone needs to be sure they feel comfortable with what they're doing," says Caison. "Bottom line is that the family, it's their case. It's their loved one. They know them best. Some communication has to happen."
Police have said they are in near-daily contact with Smith's mother, and Lolita Smith says she and her son, Dean, Smith's father, also met with police but that their request to have Jackson accompany them was denied.
"I'm intimidated," she told reporters, explaining her desire for Jackson's presence at such a meeting would enable her to feel that her questions had at least been asked of police even if they weren't answered.
Caison says the Cue Center will offer support to Charlottesville Police based on the needs of the case.
"We can do a billboard, an awareness campaign, ask if there are any areas that need to be searched," she says, describing her agency's access to a large network of professional volunteers and noting that all such services are offered free of charge.
Caison also hopes that police and family members can see each other as allies.
"This family seems to be proactive," says Caison. "They just want answers, just want to help; they want to feel that Dashad is important to the community and to the police."
Lolita Smith agrees, and says the anguish of not knowing an unbearable burden.
"I just want someone to come forward and let us know one way or the other," she says. "I've never been through anything this hard."