Vanished: The unfinished story of Thomas Brown

Vanished: The unfinished story of Thomas Brown
Thomas played football for the Canadian Wildcats, earning two state championship rings / Source: KFDA
Thomas played football for the Canadian Wildcats, earning two state championship rings / Source: KFDA
Canadian residents gather for a ground search for evidence in the case / Source: KFDA
Canadian residents gather for a ground search for evidence in the case / Source: KFDA
"And I guess for me, I see that I win either way. I either see him on this side of heaven or the other," said Thomas's mother, Penny Meek / Source: Penny Meek
"And I guess for me, I see that I win either way. I either see him on this side of heaven or the other," said Thomas's mother, Penny Meek / Source: Penny Meek

CANADIAN, TX (KFDA) - Imagine not knowing where your son, brother, best friend is.

He's missing.

Not the kind of missing where he didn't show up to a party he said he'd attend, or the kind of missing where he skipped class to finish writing an essay.

The kind of missing that no one understands, or can explain, and never thinks will happen to someone they know.

Almost as if he didn't go missing, he just vanished.

This is the reality for the people of Canadian, who for the past year have wondered what happened to now 19-year-old Thomas Brown.

365 days of not knowing where their son, brother, best friend is.

For the past year, Thomas Brown has been branded as the "missing Canadian teen."

Before that was his title, he was a high school kid described as "everyone's friend."

"Literally everybody's friend," said Classmate Sawyer Landry. "Everybody loved Tom."

He was big in the theater department at Canadian High School. He was class president his junior and senior years. He has two football state championship rings. He loves WWE wrestling, and is probably the biggest New England Patriots fan in the Panhandle.

Several people said he was hilarious, kind, and always encouraging to others.

That's why it didn't make sense when the night before Thanksgiving 2016, Thomas went out with his friends and never came home.

Original report, November 2016: Hemphill County Sheriff's Office still searching for missing teen

It seems as if a cloud is lingering over Canadian.

"It's like there's an innocence gone and there's this [fear] always in the back of your mind when you let your own kids out," said Cory Campbell, who served as Thomas's youth pastor at First United Methodist Church of Canadian.

Every day people question how Thomas could just vanish overnight, and they wake up thinking maybe this will be the day he returns.

"He'll be home any minute," said Campbell. "And then when the minutes and the hours turned into days, you just hope that it's tomorrow."

Thomas's family has now been waiting for that tomorrow for 365 days.

His mother, Penny Meek, recalled the 'first tomorrow,' thinking it would come fast.
   
"When he didn't come home at midnight and then didn't respond to text messages shortly after, I was very concerned and very worried," said Meek. "But I never got the feeling that something really, really bad had happened to him."

December 2016: Missing Canadian teen's mom: "We just want him to come home"

That feeling did not last long, as theories and rumors over what happened to her son spread through Canadian.

But none of those ideas stuck.

Hemphill County Sheriff Nathan Lewis, whose office is leading the investigation, said Thomas is still alive because they have no evidence stating otherwise.

Early on in the case, Thomas's family hired a private investigation firm after becoming frustrated with the lack of answers.

"We've engaged the case, so the case has taken a criminal turn, and this is a criminal investigation now at this point, not a missing persons case at this point," said Philip Klein, Senior Investigator with Klein Investigations.

Klein told NewsChannel 10 several months ago there is a 70 percent chance Thomas is dead, and that they had two suspects in October.

"There is a reason we're looking for a 25 caliber pistol," said Klein. "I will say that we do have a shell casing, and I will say that it was found in the car."

In a recent follow up email with Klein, he declined to comment if any suspects remain in this case.

This has been a frustrating case for all involved.

Little evidence exists.

Thomas's backpack, found shortly after his disappearance, proved unhelpful.

Recently a cell phone, along with about 30 other pieces of evidence, was found during a ground search of one part of town and has been sitting at the DPS crime lab for a month and a half, awaiting analysis.

February 2017: Backpack of missing Canadian teen found

The community of Canadian constantly wonders and fears what's been going on.

While sparse information has been released, law enforcement has never stopped working

"It's hard not to be able to tell the family everything, and I can't imagine what they have to go through just to kind of sit by and wait to get information," said Lewis. "It's horrible."

But Klein and Lewis agree the case is solvable.

They will find Thomas, or find out happened to him.

"We're just going to keep going until we can find him," said Lewis. "We want Tom to come home."

April 2017: Investigators conduct large ground search, continue to ask for public help
  
There are unopened gifts and mementos from Thomas's graduation sitting on his bed, waiting for him to come home.

"It was just this extreme sadness to know that you know you could have taken all these chances," said Landry. "All these things you didn't say to him. All these things you didn't get to do with him."

Thomas's family says the worst part is not knowing.

They've done their fair share of crying.

But now his mom calls herself "a mom on a mission."

"I know God's in control, he has a plan," said Meek. "It's going to work out some way or another. And I guess for me, I see that I win either way. I either see him on this side of heaven or the other."

A team from Klein Investigations is spending Thanksgiving with Thomas's family in Perryton this weekend.

And a large ground search in the area will be conducted over the next few days.

The town will stop at nothing to bring their boy home.

Reporter's note: 

I've been reporting on this story since the day Thomas went missing. For as long as Canadian has been searching for Thomas, I've been following along, trying to piece together as much information as I can to try to understand this case and to keep people in the know on what's going on. I know Thomas's mom, brother, father, step-dad, friends, pastor. I've spent so much time on this story and in Canadian, I know my way around town, and I feel like I know Thomas personally. I've been to his house, inside his room, stood next to his car, been all over the places in Canadian where maybe he could have gone. I've been on the evidence searches. I've spoken with those who love him as tears roll down their faces, trying to contain my own. Sometimes I like to think I can solve the case that so many see as unsolvable. All the theories that people have, I've thought through them all and haven't gotten any closer to answers. In compiling this piece, one of Thomas's friends said to me he hated how the media only labeled Thomas as a runaway and nothing more. So I set out to put a personality to a name and a face that have been plastered all over Facebook since he disappeared. To remind people that a person is missing, not just a name.

August 2017: Communities showing support to bring Thomas Brown home

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