Army Sergeant Patrick Rust survived two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 24-year-old was back on post at Fort Drum in New York for only about 30 days when he disappeared from a bar in Watertown, N.Y. in March 2007. Six months later, his remains were found in a nearby field.
Thirteen years have passed and his mother, Judy Rust, is still fighting to find out what happened to her son.
“I just want to know what happened to him,” Judy told Dateline. “Years have gone by and we still don’t have any answers.”
Patrick grew up in Russell, New York near Fort Drum and after graduating from Edwards-Knox High School in Hermon in 2001, he went to vocational school to be a welder. But his plans changed a few months after the 9/11 terror attacks and he was inspired to join the U.S. Army.
“He loved being in the Army,” Judy said. “It was his first taste of the outside world and he loved seeing all different places.”
Judy told Dateline Patrick returned home in January 2007 and he was only home a month when he got his orders for his next assignment. On June 2, he would be off to Fort Lewis in Washington state where he’d train to become a staff sergeant.
“He was really excited when he told me,” Judy said. “I could hear it in his voice. He was just really happy.”
Judy last spoke to her son on the phone just two days before he disappeared. Patrick told her he had decided to move to an off-base apartment in Watertown, N.Y. with another soldier.
“I told him that I didn’t think it was a good idea,” Judy said. “It didn’t make any sense. He would be leaving in a few months anyway. I know I was being a protective mom, but I just wanted him to stay on base.”
Judy told Dateline Patrick went out to dinner with his roommate the night of March 15, 2007. His roommate decided he wanted to go to the tanning salon and her son wanted to go back to the apartment, so Patrick started walking in that direction. When his roommate arrived home, Patrick wasn’t there.
According to Watertown Police reports, Patrick was spotted a few hours later at 9 p.m. at a bar called “Clueless” on Arsenal Street. Around 1 a.m., he left the bar by himself, witnesses told police. It was the last time anyone saw him alive.
Judy told Dateline no one heard from Patrick all weekend and on the following Monday, his superior called Judy and her ex-husband with the news that Patrick was missing.
An official missing persons report was then filed by the family with the Watertown Police Department who launched their own investigation, along with the military’s. But the investigations soon ran cold and there was no trace of Patrick.
On September 16, 2007 -- exactly six months to the day Patrick disappeared -- a farmer cutting hay in a field in Jefferson County found the soldier’s skeletal remains. The location of Patrick’s remains was about five miles from the bar where he was last seen, Judy told Dateline.
DNA testing confirmed that the remains belonged to Patrick, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. A memorial service was held at Arlington National Cemetery in October 2007.
A subsequent autopsy conducted in Washington, D.C. was unable to determine the cause or manner of death, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. But authorities found the case suspicious and continued their investigation.
In 2010, when investigators were coming up empty on answers for Patrick’s family, Judy hired private investigator Dennis Griffin.
Griffin told Dateline that when Patrick’s remains were found, his dog tags were missing. He had $80 in cash in his pockets, an indication, Griffin believes, that Patrick was not robbed. He said Patrick’s gloves were also in his pockets, which leads him to believe Patrick didn’t just walk off into an empty field in what was reportedly 18-degree weather that night.
“I believe he was picked up from the bar, Griffin said, “and something bad happened after that.”
After 10 years of his own investigation, Griffin believes he knows who was involved with Patrick’s death, but nothing has led to an arrest at this time.
“There are people who need to be questioned,” Griffin said. “I’m quite sure there’s someone who has the information we need. And it could be something minor to break this case.”
Detective Aaron House with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office would not comment to Dateline about potential persons of interest in Patrick’s case, but did say the case is now being fully handled by only the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Detective House, who took over the case two years ago, told Dateline they are still actively investigating.
“We’re still looking into every tip that comes in and we hope someone with information will come forward,” Det. House said.
The detective told Dateline he had planned to sit down with Patrick’s mother Judy in March to go over new information she may have, but he said the coronavirus pandemic has delayed their meeting.
Judy told Dateline she will not stop fighting to find answers about her son’s death. Over the years, she has posted hundreds of fliers across northern New York, set up a Facebook page “SGT Patrick Rust's Mysterious Death” and continues to stay in contact with investigators about potential leads.
“I won’t give up,” Judy said. “Someone knows something about what happened to him. We just need to keep going.”
Judy told Dateline she keeps a poster-sized photo of her son in Afghanistan in her living room. Beside the photo is a plaque from Patrick’s fellow soldiers that calls him a true warrior and states that true warriors "never leave a fallen comrade behind."
Judy reads those words often as she continues to search for answers.
Anyone with information about Patrick’s case is asked to call the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office at 315-786-2676 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.