BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — It hadn't yet begun raining when a teenager named Marble Arvidson pinned a note to the door of his bedroom in a foster home, saying he'd be back in half an hour.
By the time he was reported missing the next day, police officers were overwhelmed by the deluge wrought by the remnants of Hurricane Irene, the state's worst natural disaster in generations.
And so, a year after that last Saturday in August, the friendly but guarded 17-year-old with long blond hair, a lanky build, an unpredictable temper and a penchant for black clothing remains missing in what may become Irene's most enduring mystery.
"I want to assume he just chose to leave and he's just somewhere else," said Dan Nichols, 18, a friend from the streets of Brattleboro. "He's most likely gone far, because lots of towns around here know about the situation. There are missing persons posters everywhere."
Did he get high at a favorite hangout, slip on a rock, get washed away in a raging stream? Did he commit suicide? Was he abducted and killed? Or did the near-adult cleverly decide the coming storm was a golden opportunity to slip out of his hardscrabble life and quietly build a new one?
Authorities and those closest to him simply don't know. They're left only with what little they know about a visitor to his door before he disappeared and the details of the life that led him to the red clapboard house at state Route 9 and Sunset Lake Road.
Marble's extended family is from western Massachusetts, but he was born in California. His mother, Sigrid Arvidson, thought the name would be whimsical and attention-getting.
"It's got that ring to it; it's a strong name and stuff," she said. "I loved marbles."
She and the boy moved back to Massachusetts when he was 1; she was escaping an abusive relationship and struggling with alcoholism.
Marble's great-grandparents raised him until he was 5 or 6; then he began spending time with his sober mother, eventually living with her again full-time. In 2001, she moved to a house in the country in Halifax, Vt., where she also found better schooling for Marble.
In early adolescence, the boy began working with a male mentor, meant to provide a role model he didn't have.
That lasted until he was 14, when an adolescent power struggle about cleaning his room and other restrictions on the life of the growing teenager erupted into violence. He took a splitting maul to the outside of the house, smashing the porch and parts of the foundation, causing about $3,000 in damage, his mother said.Video: Florida prepares for Isaac’s arrival
Marble then went into traditional foster care. His third and final placement was the red house in West Brattleboro, a neighborhood in a town of about 7,500 in southeastern Vermont known for its hippie culture and left-wing politics.
Still in the custody of the Vermont Department of Children and Families, Marble lived with a mentor — a legal guardian in his 20s — along with another teenager and that teen's mentor.
He would hang out by the regional transportation center, situated near a stream called the Whetstone Brook. When last seen, he was about to enter his last year at Brattleboro Union High School, where he was making Bs and thinking about college.
"He did struggle with his emotions, he did struggle with his frustration and anger, and sometimes he needed outside help beyond what a family member or a mentor could give him, but I do believe those options were available to him and they were utilized," said his aunt Patricia Kittredge, of Belchertown, Mass., one of the top noncommissioned officers in the Massachusetts National Guard.
On Aug. 27, a Saturday, Irene was churning up the coast of the Carolinas on its way to New York City and New England.
Marble pinned a note to his bedroom door around 2 in the afternoon, saying he was "going to frolic with some friendly gremlins," and left the house with a man who appeared to be in his mid-20s, someone he knew, who might have been wearing a black baseball cap, two of his roommates later remembered.
An hour or so after Marble left, his girlfriend came looking for him, but he wasn't there. At first, people thought he was with friends.
Later that afternoon, it started to rain. The next day, Sunday, Vermont was dealing with a deluge that dropped more than 7 inches of rain onto the Green Mountains, upstream from Brattleboro.
"I think like many parents and people, you get a little nervous and you go, 'You know, he's probably over at a friend's house,'" Kittredge said. "Do I think that they probably should have taken it more seriously Saturday night? Yes, but I can understand why they didn't."Isaac lashes Florida Keys with rain; New Orleans preps
On Sunday, lots of calls were made to lots of his friends.
"'Hey, he still didn't come home. We can't find him,'" Kittredge said. "And this is in the middle of, we have no streets, we can't get anywhere, communication is down and everybody is overwhelmed."
Police say Marble was reported missing by his foster parent on Sunday.
The first thing police did was alert other agencies Marble was missing, Brattleboro Police Chief Eugene Wrinn said. Officers met with the foster parent and others, but police were dealing with Irene, a tropical storm by the time it swept over Vermont.
"I think we put the efforts that we could and the resources that we could," Wrinn said.
Whole towns were isolated for days because of washed-out roads and bridges. Six people died, and damage was pegged at three-quarters of a billion dollars in a state with a total budget of about $5 billion. In Brattleboro, it was months before many downtown businesses reopened.
The house where Marble lived stayed on dry ground, but its direct route to town was cut for three days by the Whetstone Brook and another stream, which turned hay fields into raging torrents and inundated a mobile home park.
Kittredge, his mother, his girlfriend and others held news conferences asking for his return or for information, pleas that were later posted on YouTube. There's a website and a Facebook page. Fliers are posted throughout the region. A $2,500 reward is still untouched.
And police still haven't learned who knocked on the door.
"My sense is that whatever he went to do turned into something else, and he wasn't prepared for it," said his mother, who just moved to Lyons, Colo., with Marble's 15-year-old brother Soren to, as she put it, "give us a chance to heal."
Marble didn't take anything with him when he left. His bank account remains untouched. There are no electronic tendrils that could be used to track him. Extensive ground searches by people and dogs have turned up nothing.
"He admitted he smoked marijuana; is it possible that he went outside slipped and fell, hit his head and knocked himself unconscious and got washed away by the storm? Yeah, it's possible," Kittredge said. "Is it possible that he went outside to go for a walk and somebody stopped to pick him up and he thought it was a good idea and whoever it was, was a crazy person who abducted him? It's just odd that there is no trace."
Did he commit suicide, his remains washed away? Maybe, Kittredge said, but no one saw any warning signs.
There are darker, barely whispered rumors that Marble was feuding with people around town or that perhaps his marijuana use played a role in his disappearance. Wrinn, the police chief, said investigators have heard the talk.
The detective who first led the search for Marble has left the department. Wrinn said he has assigned two detectives to start from scratch. He's still hopeful Marble will be found alive.
Nichols, the friend, said he met Marble in school and they became friends.
"He was a real smart kid, always got good grades," he said. Belying his largely black wardrobe, he'd eagerly talk to almost anyone but never get too personal.
Nichols last saw Marble a couple of days before he disappeared. Like everyone else, he has heard rumors but doesn't know what happened to him.
"I don't think he wanted anyone to think that he was dead or injured," Nichols said. "He had people who cared about him, and he cared about people, too."
Marble's aunt and mother hope focusing attention on the case will prompt someone to come forward with information.
"His 18th birthday would have been June 14," Kittredge said. "There was this little part of me that went, if he had the ability and the audacity to go hide out until he turned 18, I would have hoped he would have turned up by now.
"I believe he is out there somewhere for sure. I don't necessarily have a strong feeling he is out there alive. I think it is possible, but I think it is remote."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.