Where’s McFadden? Emotional plea from family of missing teen

LaTasha Dennis, center, Sage Smith's mother, says she can't get closure until she finds her chlld, missing for over six years. She's with her husband, James Dennis, and Sage's sister, Eanna Langston, at a June 27 press conference.
staff photo LaTasha Dennis, center, Sage Smith’s mother, says she can’t get closure until she finds her chlld, missing for over six years. She’s with her husband, James Dennis, and Sage’s sister, Eanna Langston, at a June 27 press conference. staff photo

The family of Dashad, aka Sage, Smith made a moving, at times tearful request for help in finding the man last seen with the teen missing since 2012, while urging the community to not get hung up on pronouns or the name by which Smith is identified.

 At a June 27 press conference, Charlottesville police renewed efforts to find Erik McFadden, 28, the last person to see Smith six-and-a-half years ago on November 20, 2012, on the 500 block of West Main Street.

Smith, who was known to many as Sage, was expected for Thanksgiving two days later, and when she didn’t show up, the family called police. The case was initially treated as a missing person. In November 2016, police reclassified it as a homicide.

Erik McFadden. photo Charlottesville police

Police briefly made contact with McFadden, but he failed to show up for a scheduled interview, said Captain Jim Mooney. McFadden has not been seen since, allegedly even by family members. Yesterday Mooney filed a missing person report on behalf of McFadden’s mother, who said she didn’t realize her son had disappeared until 2014, and assumed his father would have reported him missing.

Mooney listed a handful of cities along the East Coast where McFadden may have traveled or lived, including Baltimore and Joppa, Maryland, Lake City and Columbia, South Carolina, Rochester, New York, and Atlanta, although he could be at unknown locations on the West Coast as well.

Smith’s sister, Eanna Langston, was 14 when her sibling disappeared. Now 20, she mourns the milestones he’s missed (the family used male pronouns to refer to Smith). “Our hearts are hurting, our hearts are heavy with pain,” she said, at times in tears. “At 19 he was taken from us without any explanation, and he hasn’t been given any justice.”

Detective Regine Wright, who is leading the investigation, addressed the use of pronouns and names for Smith, about which both police and local media have been castigated. 

photos Charlottesville police

Smith’s family members told her that Sage “loved being a woman,” said Wright. “I also understand Sage was comfortable being a man.” According to the family, Smith also was comfortable being called his given name, Dashad, or Sage, said Wright. Smith’s grandmother, Lolita “Cookie” Smith, who died May 3, told Wright that whether dressed like a man or a woman, Sage “just wanted to look fly.”

CPD will refer to Smith as Sage and avoid using pronouns, said the detective, although at times the department will have to refer to Smith as Dashad in the search for his body. According to family members, Smith was still exploring gender identity at the time of the teen’s disappearance, said Wright, and she asked for patience “because we’re human and we make mistakes.”

Sage’s mother, LaTasha Dennis, urged people to not get bogged down about pronouns in the search for her missing child. “I’m in a situation where I can’t grieve,” she said. “I just need closure.”

She added, “Stay focused on my son.”

A $20,000 reward is offered for information leading to an arrest in the case, and anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Wright at 434-970-3381, or call the anonymous CrimeStoppers tip line at 434-977-4000.