At the height of the pandemic in 2020, two sisters from Arizona began to wonder what more they could do to help find their brother, Adam, who had been missing since 2008.
Although they weren’t big users of social media, Adriana Castillo and Cassandra Leon, told Dateline that they knew it was the way to spread the word about Adam’s disappearance.
And the way, they hoped, to finally get some answers.
A video on Sarah Turney’s TikTok account was the first one Ariana noticed when she opened the app. The Phoenix native began using the platform to seek justice for her sister, Alissa, who vanished in 2001. Her videos that focused on the case went viral and in 2021, her stepfather Michael Turney was charged with Alissa’s murder.
“I was inspired by everything she was doing to get justice for her sister,” Adriana said. “I knew I had to do the same for Adam.”
So they created the @JusticeforAdamCastillo TikTok account and prayed someone would come forward with answers. Since then, Adam’s story has been shared on two podcasts - The Vanished podcast and the Voices for Justice podcast, which Sarah Turney had created to tell her sister’s story, along with the stories of others who have vanished.
“We’re doing everything we can to get his story out there,” Cassandra told Dateline. “We need his story to be told. And we need somebody to come forward. Somebody out there knows what happened that night.”
That night began 13 years ago on the evening of September 13, 2008. Adam, then 21, lived at home in Willcox, Arizona, with his parents and two of his younger sisters. His two brothers were grown and had moved out. His sister Cassandra lived in California.
Adriana told Dateline the siblings were close and the family spent a lot of time together. She remembers playing Guitar Hero and learning to skateboard from Adam.
“He was a big skater and that’s how I got into it,” she said. “He was also the only person I could go to, really, if I was having an issue or just not happy. He’d be that good brother and tell me I was better and stronger than whatever problem it was I was having.”
That fall, it was Adam who was going through a rough patch, his sisters said. He was working at a gas station, pumping fuel for diesel trucks and he and his girlfriend had recently broken up when she left for college.
Adam’s sister Cassandra, who had moved to California, told Dateline she was trying to convince him to move out there with her. To start fresh.
“I thought it would be good for him,” she said. “Last time I spoke to him, he was seriously thinking about it. I wish I could have gotten him here before everything -- before he went missing. But then he was just gone.”
According to the Cochise County Sheriff's Office case file provided to Dateline, Adam Castillo was last seen at about 2 a.m. Sunday, September 14, 2008, just outside Willcox, near Kansas Settlement, at a party in the desert near the Blue Sky Road, locally known as “the loop.”
There were approximately 25 partygoers at the loop that night, and everybody made it home - except Adam.
Adam’s sister Adriana and his youngest sister, Eden, had planned on going to that same party. They invited Adam along to get him out of the house and cheer him up.
But as Adam and his sisters waited for their ride at their family’s home in Willcox, Adam became restless and decided he really didn’t want to go anyway. The siblings were playing video games until Adam’s friends showed up and talked him into going. His sisters said it happened so fast that he left his wallet and phone behind.
There was no room in the car for Adam’s sisters and their ride never showed up, so they stayed at home. It was hours later when they noticed their brother’s things had been left behind. So Adriana called Levi, the friend who had picked Adam up to go to the party. She said Levi told her that he and another friend had to go home, but said he had dropped Adam off at the party.
“I had a sick feeling in my stomach,” Adriana said. “It didn’t make sense at the time. Adam would be home soon, I thought. Or he’d find a way to call. But something wasn’t right this time.”
Adam’s sisters told Dateline that their brother would always check in with his parents, no matter how late he stayed out.
“He was a mama’s boy,” Adriana said with a laugh. “He would never want her to worry. He was always calling and saying he was leaving this place and that place and what time he’d be home. Not this time.”
On Sunday morning, Adriana said she was outside when a truck came barreling up to their house. One of the men in it was Adam’s friend, Gary.
“At first I thought, ‘Oh, good, Adam’s home,’” she said. “But then I saw Gary. His face was all burned up from his chin to his nose. Again, I felt sick. Something had happened.”
Gary’s first question to Adriana was, “where’s your brother?”
“I was stunned,” she said. “I just remember I kept saying, ‘No, he’s with you. My brother’s with you. What do you mean.’”
She said that’s when Gary stopped and just looked at her with a strange look on his face.
“He told me, ‘Well, if your brother does come home, tell him thank you. He might have saved my life,’” Adriana recalled. “At this point, I lost it. Something happened to my brother. I went inside and told my parents. We had to find him.”
Adriana said her parents went to the site of the party and found remnants of a bonfire with beer cans littered about. But no sign of Adam or even of foul play.
They would later learn from partygoers that the burns on Gary’s face were a result of the bonfire. But there are conflicting reports that were given to investigators at the time, and detailed in Adam’s case file, on whether he fell in or was pushed. Within hours of Adam’s disappearance, rumors began to swirl about what could have happened to him.
According to the reports in the case file, there are some partygoers who say he was seen leaving the party with a girl in a Honda. Others say he was killed in a dispute over drugs. More disturbing stories, as stated in the case file, detail a scenario in which his friend Gary was pushed into the bonfire because he owed someone at the party money. And when Adam allegedly pulled him out, thus saving his life, he was killed for his actions.
The stories would continue for years, but his family focused on finding Adam, whether he was alive, or dead. They filed a missing persons report with the Cochise County Sheriff's Department on the Monday after he vanished.
Cochise County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Carol Capas told Dateline that law enforcement conducted extensive searches of the site where the party was held, but there was no trace of Adam. They interviewed all the partygoers and received multiple conflicting reports, which are detailed in the 78-page case file.
Throughout the investigation, there have been three men, named in the case file, who are considered by the sheriff’s office as “investigative leads” who were previously interviewed, but no arrests have been made and Capas said details of any possible suspects could not be released due to the open investigation.
The family believes the men are either involved in Adam’s disappearance, or at least know what happened.
For over a decade Adam’s parents have refused to give up their search. Armed with missing posters, Adam’s mother has handed them out to every person she could in their small town of Willcox.
“We had to reel her in a little because it was taking a toll on her,” Cassandra said. “There are people in that town who know what happened to Adam. But they’re just too scared to come forward.”
In 2020, their mother had open heart surgery, and she finally had to slow down in her search for answers. So her daughters decided to step in.
“We just knew we had to do something,” Ariana said. “Maybe someone on TikTok will see his story and want to help. Maybe they’ll have that tip we need.”
Multiple investigators have been on Adam’s case, and every time they think they’re close to an answer, the family gets their hopes up.
“Each time, our mother would pray this would be the time they find Adam,” Cassandra told Dateline. “She say, ‘bring Adam home to me.’”
The sisters say Adam wasn’t only loved by his family, but his friends and the community as well.
“He was the life of the party,” Adriana said with a laugh. “He was always doing stuff to show off for the girls – handstands, back flips. He was the cool guy everybody wanted to hang out with. He just loved having a good time and making people laugh.”
According to the family, Sergeant Tal Parker has taken over the case, but has not yet been in contact with the family. Capas told Dateline that the case has been transferred to Sgt. John Gjerde and that he is planning to make contact with family members this coming week.
“We appreciate [Dateline] bringing much needed exposure to this case as we would hope to get some movement going as a result,” she added.
The family told Dateline they are happy about this update and are looking forward to hearing from the investigator while working together to bring Adam home.
Cochise County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Carol Capas told Dateline that Adam’s case is an active and open case that’s being investigated. She urged the public to call the sheriff’s office with any information that could help the case.
Although Willcox is a small town, and many people in the area have heard of Adam’s story, his sisters tell Dateline that they are often met with confused reactions from the public when they say they are still looking for their brother.
“They think Adam’s body was found years ago or that this case was already solved,” Adriana said. “They had have no idea that we’re still living this nightmare. It’s like something out of a horror movie that you never think will happen. But it happened to us.”
She said the hardest part is not knowing what happened to Adams.
"We want answers and we just want to bring him home," she said. "It doesn’t make things better, but it’ll bring us some peace, some closure.”
Adam was 21 when he disappeared and he had brown eyes and brown hair, which was cut short at the time. He has a scar on his forearm at least three inches long, and a scar on the back of his head at the right side.
Anyone with information about Adam’s case is urged to call the Cochise County Sheriff's Office at 520-803-3280.