In the hustle and bustle of New Year’s Eve, it’s easy for items like car keys or coats to be misplaced; what isn’t expected, though, is for a loved one to disappear.
Twenty-seven-year-old Ben Coffey was in Gloucester, Virginia, when he last spoke to a friend around dinnertime on New Year’s Eve 2012, according to his mother Nancy, who has requested her last name be omitted. Nancy says family had last spoken to Ben on Christmas day when they’d gathered to celebrate the holiday.
“Of course, at that point, he was a grown man, so we didn’t necessarily speak with him every day,” Nancy told Dateline.
Nancy says her son told a friend he was going home for the night because he was tired. Unbeknownst to Nancy at the time, Ben never made it home.
The next day, according to the Virginia State Police, authorities found Ben’s van in Tappahannock, Virginia, about one hour away from where Ben was last seen.
“On New Year’s Day , Tappahannock Police responded to a report of a disabled vehicle on Route 698, also known as Hobbs Hole Drive, in the Town of Tappahannock,” a Virginia State Police press release reads. “Police found a 1998 Dodge full-size van abandoned on the side of the road. The vehicle was registered to Coffey. There were numerous personal items belonging to Coffey still inside the van, along with a dog.”
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The press release continues to say Ben’s dog, Clue, had been taken to a nearby animal shelter before being returned to Ben’s family. Terry Coffey, Ben’s father and Nancy’s ex-husband, told local media that police contacted him on January 3rd to tell him Ben’s car had been found.
“You don’t leave your van on the side of the road, basically in a ditch, and disappear,” Ben’s father Terry said.
Ben’s mother Nancy told Dateline that authorities initially went to Terry’s house because Ben’s van was registered to his father’s address.
“Ben’s father called me right away,” Nancy said. “I spent that whole night calling Ben’s friends and asking if they had heard from him or knew where he was.”
Terry told local media that the family reported their son missing that day, and investigators soon conducted a search of the area near where Ben’s car had been found.
“A blood hound traced his scent to a swamp, and they lost the scent,” Terry said. “To put it bluntly, to know whether he’s alive or not [is difficult]. Because this kind of situation -- you’re always searching and thinking and looking.”
Nancy said that friends and family initially thought Ben may have gone away for the weekend of his own accord.
“He was very much a free spirit and was known to take off for a weekend,” Nancy said. “But once a month had passed, we knew better than that. We quickly knew that something wasn’t right.”
Dateline was unable to reach investigators with the Virginia State Police by Tuesday afternoon, but Nancy confirmed to Dateline that the family is offering a $10,000 reward for information that either leads to Ben’s whereabouts or an arrest and conviction in his case.
“My hope is that by getting the word out, people might take a second look at their properties,” Nancy said.
Each year around the anniversary of Ben’s disappearance, his family posts on the Help Us Find Ben Coffey Facebook page about the pain they still feel.
“We are missing Ben Coffey during this holiday season. Our hearts are heavy as we remember the fun Christmas celebrations together,” a post read. “We continue to look for Ben and still hope that we will find answers.”
Ben Coffey is 5’6” tall and weighs approximately 150 lbs. He has short, brown hair, hazel eyes, and the symbol for the band “COHEED CAMBRIA” tattooed on his right arm. Ben was last seen wearing a tan Carhartt brand jacket, jeans, and leather boots. Anyone with information on Ben’s disappearance is asked to please call Virginia State Police Special Agent A.S. Witt at (804) 537-6770 or contact Special Agent Witt by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bianca Hillier covers missing person and homicide cases for NBC News.