One year after Dashad ‘Sage’ Smith’s disappearance, search continues—for two men

Dashad "Sage" Smith, a 19-year-old from Charlottesville, went missing two days before Thanksgiving last year. Photo: Rashaa Langston Dashad "Sage" Smith, a 19-year-old from Charlottesville, went missing two days before Thanksgiving last year. Photo: Rashaa Langston

A year after 19-year-old Dashad Laquinn “Sage” Smith vanished, posters bearing his name and image are still plastered around town on telephone poles, community bulletin boards, and at convenience store counters. His anguished family has maintained from the start that he would never walk away from his life and his loved ones voluntarily, and police have conducted searches wherever they’ve had leads: along West Main Street where he was last seen, around UVA, and at a Richmond landfill. But while the search for Smith continues fruitlessly, there is another missing man who could hold the answer to the mystery, if anyone could find him to ask.

A police poster released just prior to the one-year anniversary of Smith’s disappearance on November 20 features pictures of Smith, a 2011 Charlottesville High School grad who was openly gay and frequently dressed as a woman, and puts emphasis on that second man, the only named person of interest in the case, Erik T. McFadden.

“His present whereabouts are unknown,” reads the poster.

Erik McFadden. Photo: Facebook

Erik McFadden

McFadden, a now 22-year-old former high school track runner from Maryland who played soccer at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, according to an online profile, moved to Charlottesville sometime in 2012. He confirmed to police last November that he and Smith, who went by the name Sage, had phone contact the day Smith disappeared, and that the two had planned to meet near the Amtrak station on West Main that evening.

McFadden told police that the meeting never happened. After he spoke with police, but before they could conduct an in-person interview, McFadden stopped responding to calls.

Police weren’t the only ones flummoxed by his departure.

“We were all supposed to go to a meeting, and he didn’t show up,” said J.R. Barton, who worked with McFadden at the Sherwin Williams paint store on 29 North and recalled his former colleague as quiet but a “cool dude.” McFadden didn’t have a car, said Barton, so he would either run to work or ride the bus, sometimes bringing homecooked meals and talking about his plans to take classes in the spring.

Barton said after Smith went missing, McFadden never came to work or contacted his colleagues again.

For Smith’s family, McFadden’s disappearance and investigators’ apparent inability to locate him is frustrating.

“I don’t understand how they can’t pick him up to question him for it,” said Smith’s mother, Latasha Grooms, who lives in Louisa County. Her desperation to find her oldest child has only grown over the past year.

“He has a new brother he’s never even met,” said a tearful Grooms, urging anyone with information about Smith or McFadden to contact police.

Grooms said she believes police are following any leads they can, and mentioned a detective’s recent trip to the Tidewater area to follow up on a reported sighting of McFadden. Charlottesville Police spokesperson Ronnie Roberts confirmed that Tidewater trip, but said McFadden was not located.

“Right now, we’ve done everything we possibly could,” said Roberts, including collaborating with the FBI. But even if they locate McFadden, Roberts said, he’d have to agree to come in for questioning, since police have no evidence that a crime was committed.

“You can’t force someone if you don’t have a criminal case,” he said.

In Charlottesville, a town where it often seems that everyone knows everyone, McFadden is an enigma. Smith’s family members said they had never heard his name, and even Smith’s best friend and roommate, Kash Carson, said she’d seen him but that they’d never met.

Police have said McFadden lived with his girlfriend on 14th Street, but will not comment on how he met Smith.

Nothing has been changed on the publicly visible portion of McFadden’s Facebook page since last November, and one of his Facebook friends who responded to a reporter’s query said she was not aware of his connection to the case nor did she know where he could be found.

With the holidays approaching for a second time without Smith, who turns 21 on December 13, Grooms hopes someone will help bring her son home by offering a tip.

“He is someone’s friend, someone’s grandson, someone’s brother,” said Grooms, her voice breaking. “He’s missed and he’s loved. We want to know what happened, where he is. If anyone knows anything, please says something.”

There is a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conclusion in the case. Anyone with information on Smith or McFadden should contact Detective Ronald Stayments at 970-3280 or Crimestoppers at 977-4000. A vigil for Smith will be held at 5:30pm Wednesday, November 20, at Lee Park.

  • RandomThoughts

    There is a vigil for Dashad/Sage at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lee Park.

  • JoAnn Robertson

    The reward is now 10,100.00.00

  • Sasuke Uchiha

    What about finding erik…my friend need to be found to

    • Jeremy Hennessee

      That’s true Sasuke. because there are only 3 real options in such a case. Your “friend” is either a Co-Victim of an unfortunate crime, the perpetrator of a crime against the Smith kid, or they ran off together for whatever reason and have not contacted friends or family. (the latter seems improbable but is not impossible.)Nothing else fits really. The detective on this case should ANALYZE video footage from the bus station and surrounding areas to see if McFadden got on a bus. Considering that he has no transportation, options would be limited to either the bus, hitch-hiking somewhere, or having a friend drive him. Someone knows SOMETHING on this matter though. It doesn’t look good at any rate…

      • Joshua Pugh

        I understand that…he was my best friend and he still hasnt been found…i understand the way it looks i just want to make sure he alive also

      • Jeremy Hennessee

        It also does not look good for your “friend” that he talked to Smith on the day of his disappearance, was questioned by police, and then DISAPPEARED himself without a trace the SAME DAY as Smith .(after reporting he was supposed to have a Date with Smith but it never happened.) Smith was last seen with NOTHING but the clothing on his back and there was no indication of luggage, or mention of a “trip” to anyone. The only thing there IS…is a connection with a Man who was one of the LAST people to talk to him that just so happened to disappear the SAME DAY Smith went MISSING..without bothering to TELL ANYONE, or even contact his employers..yeah…. (many would construe that as GUILTY BEHAVIOR in most circles of the world.)

    • EDVA

      Erik’s FB page was updated to reflect he graduated from College in 2013?

  • Amanda

    can you stop misgendering sage

    • Lisa Johnson

      I hear what you’re saying, but Sage’s mother says, ““He is someone’s friend, someone’s grandson, someone’s brother,” said Grooms, her voice breaking. “He’s missed and he’s loved. We want to know what happened, where he is. If anyone knows anything, please says something.” I wouldn’t tell a grieving mother what to call her own child. The author had to use the same pronoun or the article would have been poorly written. I’m sure Courteney Stuart wanted Mrs. Grooms to be satisfied.

    • mslady269

      But HE was a boy. God mad him with male parts.

  • parkwood1920

    Really annoyed that Stuart misgenders Sage Smith throughout this article. I’m pretty sure it’s common knowledge in C-Ville that Sage Smith identified as female. It’s infuriating that media continues to ignore trans people’s identities, especially since Sage’s trans identity may have been a factor in her disappearance.

    • Desiree Reed

      The mother still calls Sage “he” and I’m sure the author stuck with it. It would be unfair to change a grieving mothers words around. Also, its tough for parents having to learn to call their boy a she when they’ve been saying he their whole lives. It takes time. The family certainly loved Sage and wasn’t against it, but lets just remember thats not the important part. Sage is missing, and its important people know that Sage is physically a male named Dashad who mentally identifies as a female known as Sage. Sometimes Sage didn’t dress as a female so its important to know the male side too. If my son was trans and went missing I’d want both sides to be known. I would, however, call Sage “she” if I had met her in person, and if thats what she preferred to be called.

Comment Policy