As a young man, Austin Colson was on the right track, both his parents say. He lived with his girlfriend in their South Royalton, Vermont apartment and even had his own painting business called “A and C Painting.”
“He took business advice from me,” Austin’s dad Dana Colson, also an entrepreneur, told Dateline. “He started his painting business last summer and it was doing well in the summer months.”
But with the Vermont winter, business slowed. Dana his son started doing odd jobs around town to make money.
“He and his girlfriend would do sugaring and make maple syrup,” his mom DeAunna McKinney-Clafin told Dateline, referring to Austin’s girlfriend Katie Grizzaffi. “Austin and her are very hard workers. I was very, very happy with the way he decided to do things.”
One of the odd jobs Austin, then 19, picked up was hauling scrap metal. Dana only lives five miles from Austin’s apartment, and let his son borrow his trailer a few times to help with the hauling.
On January 10, 2018, Dana says Austin asked if he could use the trailer the next day with a man named Rich Whitcomb. Dana says since he leaves for work early in the morning, the plan was for Austin and Rich to pick up the trailer after Dana left, using Rich’s truck to haul the trailer. Austin said they’d return it to Dana’s house before he was home from work.
Katie’s mom Lori Grizzaffi, who helps run the Bring Austin Home Facebook page, told Dateline her daughter saw Austin around 5:00 a.m. on January 11 as she was leaving for work.
“They texted back and forth a few times that morning -- until around 10:30 a.m.,” Lori told Dateline. “The last two messages she sent him, she didn't get a response from [him]. Then at 11:00 a.m. the messages weren't going [through] to his phone at all.”
Lori says Katie “didn't think much of it at the time, as lots of areas in the [area are] dead spots for cell service.”
Dana says he drove by his house around 1:45 p.m. As he expected, the trailer was gone and Austin’s car was parked outside.
But when Dana arrived home from work that night, nothing had changed: Austin’s car was still parked outside and the trailer was nowhere to be seen.
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“I thought maybe they were running late or had a breakdown,” Dana said. “It could have been anything.”
By the middle of that night, Katie had grown worried.
“She ended up at my house around 4:00 a.m. in tears,” Lori said of her daughter.
Austin’s mom DeAunna said that’s when she got a message from Katie, saying she hadn’t heard from Austin in almost 24 hours and had been out all night trying to locate him. DeAunna said she hadn’t heard from him, either, so she called her ex-husband Dana to see if he knew anything.
“I had been sleeping, so I walked through the house and went outside and saw Austin’s car still out there, with the trailer still gone,” Dana told Dateline. “I was texting and calling him, too. But his phone was off.”
DeAunna, who lives in New Hampshire, called her local police to report Austin missing, but was re-directed to the Vermont State Police since that’s where Austin lived.
“A lot of things were going through my mind at the time. I didn’t know what to think,” DeAunna told Dateline. “I was just stunned and numb all at the same time.”
The next night, Dana says Katie and a few friends went over to Rich’s house to see if he knew where Austin was. According to Dana, Rich denied being with Austin at all that day and says he was about 100 miles away in Manchester, New Hampshire.
The Vermont State Police didn’t respond to Dateline’s request for comment, but NBC affiliate WPTZ/WNNE reports that after police began questioning Rich in Austin’s disappearance, Vermont State Police arrested him on unrelated federal firearm charges.
Police also told WPTZ/WNNEthat Whitcomb is the only person of interest in Austin’s disappearance. WPTZ/WNNE reports that court documents say Whitcomb’s cellphone was “wiped clean” when detectives found it. However, when detectives opened the Safari app on the phone, “they allegedly found a search for how long gunshot residue lasts.”
Almost a week after Austin vanished, Dana says Katie and her mom Lori found his trailer on a back road in Sharon, Vermont, about 10 miles from Dana’s house.
“I dropped what I was doing and drove as fast as I could down there,” Dana told Dateline. “When I got there, all the detectives were there. The trailer was parked on the side of the road, perpendicular to the road.”
A January 19 Facebook post by the Vermont State Police says “the trailer was partially loaded with scrap metal.”
“There was a light dusting of snow on it, so we could tell it had been there for a few days,” Dana added. “The detectives did a search of the area there. There are 30 cabins there, because it’s a summer camp. They went into every cabin and brought in dogs.”
According to Dana, police have been unable to find any significant leads. Austin’s phone, wallet and car keys remain missing.
Now, four months later, Dana says a group of people still do ground searches every Saturday in the hope of finding something that will lead them to his son. Austin’s mom DeAunna says she is trying to stay strong, especially for Austin’s 10-year-old sister.
“She has nights where she just won’t go to sleep. She’s just very upset, crying,” DeAunna told Dateline. “She sleeps with a bear Austin had made a few years ago, and she has a picture of Austin taped on to it. She’s always asking me when he’s coming home. I just tell her that I don’t know.”
DeAunna said her son “never talked about leaving” and “had a stable life.”
“He had a good girlfriend and they both loved each other to death, and would do anything for each other,” she added.
In a message to Dateline, Austin’s girlfriend Katie said, “I just want him home. I love him more then anything.”
“My daughter is a mess,” Katie’s mom Lori said. “She wanted to marry and be with him forever. And someone took that from her. That's why I am so involved. I have been out searching every weekend and some weekdays after work for him.”
“All everyone wants is to find Austin and bring him home to Katie and family, so we can all have closure. It is the not knowing that is killing us,” Lori added.
Rich Whitcomb had been held behind bars for the unrelated firearm charges, but was released to the Valley Vista treatment center for drug addiction in April. He has not been charged in relation to Austin’s disappearance.
Austin Colson is described as being 5’8” tall and weighing 135 lbs. with brown hair and brown eyes. Police reports say he was last seen wearing blue jeans, Chippewa boots, a hooded camo jacket, and a white ball cap with black lettering with "A and C Painting" on it. If you have any information on Austin Colson’s disappearance, please call the Vermont State Police at 802-234-9933. To submit an anonymous tip, send a text message to CRIMES (274637).