Authorities announced late Monday that three men have been arrested and charged with concealment of a death in connection with the November 2016 disappearance of Cole Thomas.
According to a press release from the Benson Police Department, Julian Valles Jr., 34, Rudolfo DeLeon Jr., 27, and Anthony Ridell James Jr., 26, were taken into custody on various charges, some including felony concealment of a death and felony obstruction of justice. They were transported to the Johnston County Jail and held on bonds ranging from $350,000 to $1 million.
Police have not said if a body has been found in connection with the case. No further information was released.
The news of the arrests came as a welcome development by Cole’s family, who reacted through a posting from Cheryl Curry, one of Cole’s aunts, posted to the Find Cole Thomas Facebook Page.
“I want to let everyone how grateful we are as Cole Thomas’ family for all the love, prayers, support, and endless sharing and searching,” her posting read, in part. “Please pray for conviction on the hearts of these guys who were with him because they know what happened to Cole.”
Authorities say Cole, whose full name is Christopher Cole Thomas, was last seen on November 25, Thanksgiving weekend, on a trip from his new residence in Minnesota to North Carolina. He was reportedly traveling with two acquaintances he met at a new job. It’s still unclear if any of the men he was traveling with were among those arrested.
According to an application for a search warrant, filed by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations, obtained by NBC affiliate WRAL, the men Cole had been with told authorities the three of them had driven to the area "to do a big drug deal." They said once the deal had been made, Cole became paranoid and began driving erratically. He then stopped the car at the intersection of North Elm and East Morgan streets in Benson, North Carolina, and ran off, the men claimed. It was sometime around 3:00 a.m.
Cole’s family told Dateline in January that they were shocked at the statements that Cole may have been involved in a drug deal. He had been texting with them shortly before he disappeared, and nothing seemed off, family members said.
Several members of the family relocated to North Carolina to search in the weeks after Cole’s disappearance. A Facebook page set up by the family has grown to nearly 7,500 members since it was created.