Family holds out hope for missing brother
By Nathan Hardin
For more than 11 years, Robert Brown has been searching for his brother.
As holidays, birthdays and Veterans Days roll by, Brown said he and other relatives are still holding out hope that Terry Lee Brown will find his way back home.
On Oct. 7, 2000, another brother dropped off Terry Brown at his home on Hillsboro Street.
It was mid-afternoon and Terry had finished doing repair work on a local church with two of his brothers.
He was last seen walking to his front door.
Terry’s disappearance has baffled authorities over the last decade.
One Salisbury officer said Terry “seemed to vanish.”
According to the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, nearly 10,000 people are reported missing in North Carolina each year.
Local officers say most Rowan County missing persons are found quickly and some may go unreported if officers find them before the reports are finished.
In 2011, local law enforcement agencies reported 74 missing person reports were filed.
Out of those, officers said, three are still open. Those cases are believed to be related to family disputes in which the people reported missing left on their own.
‘A hurting feeling’
Although he wore glasses, Terry didn’t have them with him when he disappeared.
He was last seen wearing a green jacket and khaki pants.
Younger brother Robert said he thinks his then 53-year-old sibling was abducted.
“It had to be something wrong. He wouldn’t have just walked off,” Robert Brown said. “I figure somebody had to take him.”
Robert said his brother, a U.S. Army veteran, took medication for a mental condition.
The condition, he said, had been going longer than a year, but he said nothing changed in the months leading up to his disappearance.
“If he was going to leave on his own, he would have done that a long time ago,” his brother said.
Through the years, Robert said, conversations at holidays and family gatherings linger on the missing brother.
Calvin Brown Sr. said he thinks his brother is in an assisted living home but doesn’t know where he is.
“I think he's going to show up one day,” Calvin said. “I think he’s somewhere where he probably don’t know where he's at.”
As another year begins, Robert Brown said the family is hoping for resolution.
“It’s a hurting feeling. You don’t know if he’s alive or dead,” Robert said. “You know? It’s really having a burden on all of us.”
Robert said Terry’s three children still call occasionally to ask about their father.
But Robert said the family is holding out hope, because it’s “all we can do.”
“We’re hoping,” he said. “Been doing that ever seen he’s been missing.”
Most found quickly
Todd Sides, a sergeant over Salisbury Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, said that from an investigation perspective, the details surrounding Brown’s disappearance present a “worst-case scenario.”
“It’s always an open case,” Sides said, “but if there’s nothing to follow up on. ... If we got new information we would be glad to follow up on it.”
Terry Lee Brown is one of two Rowan residents listed in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database.
The other case involves Michael Rustin, who has been missing since April 2009.
Local law enforcement agencies said most people reported as missing return home or are found within days.
Officers at the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and Salisbury Police Department said many cases go unreported because the people are found before the reports have been finalized.
John Sifford, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said the department took 36 missing persons reports in 2011. Additionally, officers had 76 reported juvenile runaways.
Out of the 112 total cases, only two are still open investigations. Both, he said, appear to be family disputes.
“I certainly think that you can attribute it to luck and good detective work in following up on those type cases as they come up,” Sifford said. “We’re lucky in the fact that we don't have any that have been long outstanding missing persons.”
The longest recent case for the Sheriff’s Office ended in June when a Rowan County man was found living in Colorado. According to the report, the man, who had been missing for three years, was married and living with his wife.
Salisbury Police reported similar statistics with 38 missing persons cases in 2011, two of which are still open. They also had 71 juvenile runaways reported, with four still open.
Sides, with the Criminal Investigation Division, said detectives put the same emphasis on missing persons cases as other higher-profile incidents.
“To us, they’re up there with homicides,” he said. “Anytime there’s a missing person, the family doesn’t have closure. Regardless of how bad something is, the family wants to know.”
Sides, who investigated Michael Rustin’s disappearance, said officers feel a certain level of responsibility when handling missing persons cases.
“It’s hard for us officers and it’s hard for me when I talk to the Rustin family, because I can’t be the superhero that finds their son,” Sides said. “And it’s hard for the family because they want their son back, their brother back.”
Rustin disappeared after he got into a blue Chevrolet Impala on April 19, 2009, with at least two Hispanic men. Investigators said it was the last time he was seen.
The Rustin family declined to comment.
Sides said detectives initially try to notify local businesses and other locations where missing persons may be spotted when they’re called into a missing persons case.
Loss prevention officers at large companies like Walmart and Kmart are also notified.
Investigators said they work to access email accounts, social media profiles and can sometimes triangulate positions by using the person’s cell phone.
But Brown’s case, unlike other missing persons cases, has almost no starting point, Sides said.
“It always comes back to the same questions, with no answers,” he said.
New technology, however, is rekindling hope for the Brown family.
At the time of Brown’s disappearance, officers were limited in how they could investigate and publicize missing persons information.
In 2002, then-deputy chief Mark Wilhelm said officers had kept an eye on Brown’s bank account, but had seen no activity.
In 2010, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that 692,944 entries were added to the National Crime Information Center database, used by law enforcement agencies across the country.
In 1997, there were 980,712 missing persons entries added to the database, a difference of about 30 percent.
Unlike some agencies that require individuals to wait 24 hours before filing reports, Sifford said, deputies add missing persons information to the database immediately.
“Once they complete the report they enter them into NCIC,” he said.
The system, he said, helps agencies across the country recognize missing persons.
About seven years after Brown’s disappearance, the Department of Justice created the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database. His case was added in 2009, shortly after the website became accessible by the public.
But despite the innovation in missing person investigations, the Brown family is still waiting for an answer.
“He’s somewhere,” Calvin Brown Sr. said. “I don’t know if this new stuff will help, but I hope so.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact Salisbury Police at 704-638-5333 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-639-5245.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246 or nhardin@ salisburypost. com.