Where are you, Aubrey?
For the past year, Aubrey Carroll’s family has been praying for the answer to that question.
The 15-year-old from Georgia finished his exams at Spalding High School on May 24, 2016 and has not contacted a family member since.
“I can’t even describe this feeling,” Gina Fountain told Dateline. “Even if your mind tries to forget, your heart reminds you.”
Gina is Aubrey’s great-aunt on his mother’s side, but he always called her “Big Mama.”
“He was a good kid and never got into trouble,” Gina told Dateline. “He was very witty and fun to be around.”
At the time of his disappearance, Aubrey was living with his father in Jones County. He had recently moved there, but was finishing the school year at Spalding High School in Griffin.
Each morning, Aubrey’s dad would drive over an hour to drop his son off at the bus stop by his old house.
“I dropped him off that morning and everything seemed fine,” Michael Carroll told Dateline.
That afternoon, Aubrey’s stepmother Leah went to pick him up from the bus stop, but he wasn’t there. After attempting to contact some of his friends on social media, Michael reported Aubrey missing.
According to investigators from the Spalding County Sheriff’s office, Aubrey left school that afternoon with his friend David Rutledge. The next morning he reportedly showed up at his friend Camron McCree’s house, but was not allowed to stay there. According to Gina, Camron’s mother said she asked Aubrey to leave when she learned his parents were looking for him.
He then asked friends for a ride to the nearest Flying J Truck Stop. Investigators say he was in contact with friends in Gary, Georgia on May 26th, but no one has seen or heard from him since.
When Aubrey first disappeared, no one on his mother’s side of the family was notified, according to great-aunt Gina.
“I only found out about a month later,” she said, when a family friend saw Aubrey’s missing photo posted on Facebook.
During that time, Gina says she kept calling Aubrey’s stepmother looking to speak with him. “I called Leah to ask if Aubrey could come with me to Indiana, but she pretended he wasn’t home,” Gina told Dateline.
“Now I don’t know what to think,” said Gina. “I’m not accusing them, but I am just upset I wasn’t informed sooner.”
“We did not think it was necessary to notify that side of the family right away,” said Michael, who has legal custody of Aubrey. “At that point we felt like we were going to find him and everything was going to be OK.”
When Aubrey first disappeared, his father and investigators believed that he would likely return on his own.
“I have no idea why he would want to run away,” said Michael. “He did get into some trouble the weekend before he ran away, but that wasn’t that big a deal.”
According to Gina, Aubrey’s fathers kept a very strict household, and Aubrey was constantly “put on restriction,” meaning he would have limited time to spend with friends.
“I just wish I knew what happened at home that weekend,” said Gina. “Aubrey’s side of the story – not his father’s – but he isn’t here to tell it.”
When Darrell Dix took over as Spalding County Sheriff in January of this year, Aubrey’s family contacted him about the case.
“We decided to go back to the beginning and re-interview the witnesses, re-investigate any clues and completely re-build the case,” Sheriff Dix told Dateline.
A new investigator, Todd Hendrix was also assigned to the case.
The Sheriff’s department is now offering a $5,000 reward for anyone who can put them in contact with Aubrey.
According to investigators, they have no reason to suspect foul play.
“Initially we believed he ran away,” said Sheriff Dix. “But then we don’t know what happened.”
Sheriff Dix believes that someone in the community may be in contact with Aubrey and is helping him stay hidden.
While investigating a missing person’s case a year later presents some challenges, Sheriff Dix is still determined to find Aubrey.
“People’s memories change and time frames change, but people may be more willing to open up and give us new leads,” said Sheriff Dix.
Investigators hope that community members will be sympathetic to the family’s pain and someone with information will decide to come forward.
“If I could contact Aubrey, I would tell him that I love him unconditionally and nothing could upset me. He could come back today, with no questions asked, and he would never be in trouble,” said Gina. “Big Mama loves you – just come back.”
His father also hopes that Aubrey is safe. “No matter what, we will love him and support him,” said Michael. “He is a vital part of our family and now there is a big hole in my life.”
Investigators want Aubrey to know that if he doesn’t feel comfortable contacting his family, he can call them.
“We just want to hear his voice and know that he is OK,” said Sheriff Dix. “That is why we are offering $5,000 to anyone who will put us in contact with him.”
Anyone with information regarding Aubrey’s case is urged to contact Investigator Todd Hendrix directly at 770-467-5442.