Age progression to 24 years old
Age progression to 24 years old
Dorien Thomas still haunts the Amarillo Police Department.

His 26th birthday is coming up this year. He was 9 when anyone last saw him. It was a rainy day on Oct. 26, 1998 when the police department received a call that Dorien was missing. He had been riding his bicycle near his home on Northwest Ninth Avenue.

Then he was gone. Vanished. No trace of him could be found anywhere. His bike? That was gone, too. Dorien was wearing a red t-shirt and blue jeans at the time of his disappearance.

Has the police department given up on finding him? Not even close, said Lt. Erick Bohannon, who heads APD's Special Crimes Unit. Bohannon has led the Special Crimes Unit since 2011, but when the call came in that Dorien was missing, he was serving on the “bike patrol,” peddling a bicycle through neighborhoods as part of the department's community policing program.

“We had a lot of volunteers from the community come out to look for Dorien,” Bohannon recalled, “and I was helping coordinate the search at the time.” Neighbors came forward to assist in looking through vacant fields, knocking on doors to question residents, peering into every nook and cranny they could find.

Dorien's case is one of many cold cases the police department keeps active. But this one is special, Bohannon said, given the nature of his disappearance, and the fact that he went missing without a trace – no apparent foul play, no sign of a struggle.

The police department started out combing the neighborhood, Bohannon said, “looking into every boarded-up house in the area. That's basic Police Work 101, actually.”

“We have no idea where he went” or what happened to him, Bohannon said.

The police department continues to get tips from interested folks who claim to have seen Dorien. The frequency of the tips is tapering off as time passes, Bohannon acknowledged, but the department follows up on what it considers to be “legitimate” calls from individuals who think they've spotted Dorien.
“It's a bit frustrating,” Bohannon said, because the department received a recent call from someone who purportedly saw a 9-year-old boy fitting Dorien's description. Bohannon chuckled a bit, noting that tips such as that one are dismissed, given that Dorien “isn't 9 years old any longer.”Amarillo police have an ally in a national organization dedicated to finding missing children. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children keeps a data base on all missing kids, Bohannon said. NCMEC receives tips on occasion and it routinely sends them to the affected police agency. Accordingly, Bohannon said, Amarillo gets calls from the agency when a tip involves a child who's missing from this area. NCMEC even forwards the non-serious calls, preferring to let the local agency determine whether to follow up on the tip, according to Bohannon.

“They have an active file on Dorien,” Bohannon said of NCMEC, adding that the agency has provided “age-progression” profiles showing what experts believe Dorien would look like as a young man nearing 30 years of age.

DNA testing has become more prevalent in recent years, Bohannon said. “It's a more viable way to determine whether human remains, for example, match Dorien.”

Bohannon told of a set of human remains that someone discovered in the Atlanta, Ga., area. “They were of a young boy,” Bohannon said, explaining that DNA determined that the boy was an African-American. “But it wasn't Dorien,” Bohannon said, citing dental records that were used to rule out whether the remains belonged to Dorien. “That's a very good tool we can use to make these identifications,” Bohannon said.

The Special Crimes Unit has spoken to members of Dorien's family many times over the years, Bohannon said. He explained that Dorien's mother still lives in Amarillo. Dorien has a brother, but Bohannon isn't aware of his whereabouts, nor does he know the identity of Dorien's father.

“A lot of theories about what happened to Dorien came out at the time he went missing,” Bohannon said, declining to divulge details of what those theories entailed.

Bohannon's predecessor as head of Special Crimes, Lt. Gary Trupe, told NewsChannel 10 in October 2008 that Dorien was a street-wise youngster. “He knew who he was. He knew where he lived. … And he wasn't going to be somebody who was going to go somewhere unless he was going to go of his own free will,” Trupe said on the 10th anniversary of Dorien's disappearance.

“How long does the police department keep a cold case open? “If I had my druthers, I wouldn't close any of them,” Bohannon said. He talked about a case involving a homicide that occurred in 1964. “We had a suspect that we were looking at,” Bohannon said, “and we followed up in 1974.” But that suspect – the only one considered by the police department, has since died. “Obviously, with just one suspect, we cannot keep that case open,” Bohannon said.

“There comes a point when you have to let these cases go,” Bohannon said. “If you have a case from the 1940s, well, there'd be no one left” who could help solve that case, he said.

“Everyone seems to presume that something bad happened to Dorien,” Bohannon said. “But he still could be alive.”

Why wouldn't he return to Amarillo? “We don't know what would keep him away,” Bohannon said in response to the question. Bohannon said “it's entirely possible” that Dorien is being held captive, much like those three young women were held for a decade in Cleveland, Ohio by Ariel Castro, who eventually committed suicide after he was arrested and charged with multiple counts of kidnapping, rape and aggravated assault.

Bohannon said the Dorien Thomas case still eats at the veteran officers who were on duty when the boy went missing. Trupe said much the same thing in his 2008 interview with NewsChannel 10. “I know there were a lot of people at the police department that were out here 10 years ago, who are still at the department that this kind of, for lack of a better word, kind of ‘haunts' them,” Trupe said.

“Nothing is out of the realm of possibility,” Bohannon said. “Until proven otherwise, I am not writing Dorien off.”