Latasha Grooms was surprisingly calm and collected last Saturday when she and at least 80 other Charlottesville residents gathered to conduct a search for her 19-year-old son, Dashad “Sage” Smith.
The transgender teenager went missing the day before Thanksgiving, and was last seen near the 500 Block of West Main Street, allegedly on his way to meet a friend, Erik McFadden. Police are searching for McFadden, who they believe has now left the area, calling him a “person of interest” in their investigation. Last Saturday, a group of friends, family, and strangers met outside the Amtrak station, and with the help of search-and-rescue volunteers and one Charlottesville Police officer, combed the city for clues.
Grooms said she wasn’t sure what she was hoping for on Saturday.
“Part of me wants to know what happened, part of me doesn’t,” she said. “Is he O.K.? Is he hungry? We don’t know, and it makes my mind wander to a place I don’t want it to go.”
Some who participated in Saturday’s search, like Samantha Tornello and Jennifer Mairoano, have never had so much as a conversation with Smith, but didn’t think twice before jumping in to help.
“It just feels like something we should be doing,” Mairoano said.
And like other members of the LGBT community, the couple worry that the police and media have a “lack of interest” in finding Smith because of his sexual orientation.
“It reminds me that this isn’t the best town for an LGBT community,” Tornello said. “But we’ve never had to deal with something like this, so we don’t know what to do.”
But the story has registered on a national and regional scale. A Huffington Post story on the disappearance hit the Web November 29, and TV stations in Richmond and Washington, D.C. have also picked it up.
Saturday’s search lasted about two hours. No clues or tips surfaced, but Smith’s family was touched by the community’s solidarity and willingness to help.
“If he could see this, Dashad would be so pleased,” Henson said.
Anyone who has seen or heard from Smith or McFadden is asked to call Crimestoppers at 977-4000.