Jessica Porter looked up to her older brother, Paul. He was her protector. He was their family’s protector.
Raised by a single mother, the siblings grew up in the small town of Licking, Missouri. They didn’t have much money, or a house that wasn’t on wheels. But they had each other.
When their mother went on dates, her teenaged son Paul made sure she was treated right. When his little sister Jessica was picked on, or had a bad day, Paul stepped in to defend her.
“Our fathers weren’t in our lives, so Paul was the one I looked up to,” Jessica Porter told Dateline. “He was my protector.”
Looking back, one of Jessica’s fondest memories of her brother is actually when he’d take her to Blimpie, a sandwich shop inside a local gas station.
“We’d just sit there and eat sandwiches and laugh for hours,” Jessica said. “I thought I was so cool - eating at the Blimpie with my older brother.”
She recalls it was the summer of 2000 when everything changed.
Paul was well on his way to getting a sports scholarship to a college - something they couldn’t otherwise afford. All his life he played every sport imaginable, Jessica said. Scouts came to his high school to watch him play.
“He had everything going for him,” Jessica said. “He had a future ahead of him.”
It was that summer when Paul decided he wanted to spend time with his father, Robert, who lived in Mesa, Arizona. His mother pleaded with him not to go, but Paul went anyway and spent the summer with him.
Jessica was only 11 at the time, but told Dateline that she remembers her brother calling home often, asking for help to get back to Missouri. He made it back around the holidays, but then decided to return to Arizona and finish out the school year. Jessica never saw her brother again.
Jessica told Dateline that her mother was alerted to Paul’s disappearance in August 2001. He was last seen in the early morning hours of August 11 when he left his father’s house in Mesa, Arizona. He was driving his father’s silver Chevrolet pickup truck.
On August 14, the truck Paul had been driving was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in Tucson, Arizona, according to the Mesa Police Department. Before the responding officer could confirm the identity of the driver, the truck sped away and a high-speed chase ensued. The chase was called off due to bad weather conditions.
The next morning, the truck was located crashed and abandoned on the side of a steep hill in a remote area in the Sierra Catalina Mountains. Paul’s wallet, driver’s license and cell phone were under the seat and the car keys were on the console.
Jessica told Dateline she recently discovered that Paul had cashed his paycheck from work the day before he vanished, but the cash was not found in the wallet.
That information is just part of what Jessica said she has learned since she decided to take a lead in finding answers about her brother’s disappearance.
“I was so young when he went missing, I didn’t know what to do,” Jessica said. “All I knew is that everything changed after he was gone. Our lives were shattered.”
Jessica and Paul’s mother didn’t talk much about her son’s disappearance, but she always checked in with the police department for updates.
“She needed to know what happened to her son,” Jessica said. “This broke her… this killed her.”
After years of heartbreak and telling her daughter that she just wanted to be with Paul, their mother took her own life in July 2020.
Heartbroken and devastated, Jessica felt her world shatter once more. She said she wanted to give up, but became even more determined to find out what happened to Paul.
So Jessica reached out to Investigator Larissa Valdez, who had only been on the case since 2019. An older case, it was not a priority, but Jessica said that once she took over the role of point of contact -- and after making a plea on social media and providing information to the police -- Paul’s binder grew.
Investigator Valdez told Dateline that since the case is active, she cannot provide details about the investigation, but urged anyone who might have information that could lead to Paul to call Mesa Police.
The public can also send information to the Paul David Sanders-Brewer(Missing Person) Facebook page that was created by Jessica.
Many friends have posted their fondest memories of Paul, and while most of them are sports-related, there are a couple that show his sensitive side.
Like one that reads: “Paul was the first boy to ever buy me jewelry! He bought me a ring when we were in the 5th grade. He hid it behind my mouse when we were in computer class! It was so sweet!”
Jessica told Dateline the page has helped her through a difficult time, whether it’s connecting with people who might have information or people who share their memories of him.
Through Jessica’s own investigation, she has connected with Paul’s father and some of his friends in Arizona. She said she’s gotten conflicting stories about the days before her brother was last seen. And there are people who’ve told her stories about Paul getting caught up in the wrong crowd.
“The things I’ve heard about him, it’s just not him at all,” Jessica said.
She added that there are also stories about her brother trying to get away from some kind of trouble he had encountered, which also might have led to his disappearance. But she says she knows one thing for sure: If Paul left on his own, whether to start a new life or for safety, he would have contacted their mother.
“He wouldn’t have left us to wonder,” Jessica said. “He wouldn’t have left us brokenhearted. He was our protector.”
Anyone with information about Paul’s whereabouts is asked to call the Mesa Police Department 480-644-2211.