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Riley Strain’s parents hopeful they will find son who ‘stands out in a crowd’

Search efforts have been underway to locate the University of Missouri student, who has not been seen since he was asked to leave a bar in Nashville on March 8.

Riley Strain’s mother and stepfather aren’t giving up hope that they will eventually find their 22-year-old son, who has been missing since March 8.

“We’re still, you know, actively planning to bring Riley home with us,” Strain’s stepfather, Chris Whiteid, told NBC News in an interview Saturday, just over a week since his stepson went missing in Nashville, Tennessee.

Strain's bank card was found Sunday on the embankment between Gay Street and the Cumberland River, near the riverbank where he was last seen, police said in an update on X, perhaps providing a clue that will bring Strain's parents one step closer to locating their missing son.

But even as they confront their darkest moment, Chris Whiteid and his wife, Michelle Whiteid, said the outpouring of support and the search efforts of those in the community have “restored our faith in people.”

“We’ve had some really good volunteer organizations that have reached out to us, helped us,” Chris Whiteid said.

Michelle and Chris Whiteid arrived in Nashville on March 9 to try to figure out what happened after Strain was removed from Luke’s 32 Bridge Food + Drink — a bar owned by country singer Luke Bryan — in downtown Nashville.

The bar said in a statement that security escorted Strain out “based on our conduct standards,” and that he exited the front door at 9:35 p.m. According to the statement, Strain was served only one alcoholic drink and two waters while he was there.

“It’s hard to be away from home, but we wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Michelle Whiteid said, with her husband adding that it’s “as comforting as it can be” to be in the city where their son was last seen.

Strain, a senior at the University of Missouri, was visiting the city on a trip with his fraternity, Delta Chi, for a spring formal.

Police said he was last seen on security camera footage just before 10 p.m. on March 8. In the video, he appears to sway before doing a 360-degree turn and continuing to walk.

He told his friends he would return to their hotel after leaving Luke’s 32 Bridge, Chris Whiteid told NBC affiliate WSMV of Nashville, but Strain never made it there.

At 9:47 p.m., Strain was seen on security footage released by the Metro Nashville Police Department crossing 1st Avenue North to Gay Street, which is about 0.7 miles from Luke’s 32 Bridge and in the opposite direction of the Tempo Hotel, where he and his friends were staying.

The last video police have of Strain is from 9:52 p.m., in which he is seen walking north between the James Robertson Parkway and Woodland Street Bridge, Robert Nielsen, a sergeant with Nashville police, said Thursday. Other cameras in the area did not pick up on Strain’s route, and Nielsen said police are searching for more nearby cameras they might have missed to continue gathering information on Strain’s whereabouts.

Nielsen said Thursday there was no sign of foul play at this point, and it was still a missing person investigation. A search mission by ground, air and along the riverbank near where Strain was last seen has been ongoing.

Chris Whiteid said he and his wife have “struggled” with sparse information and short updates from the police and detectives on the case over the last week, but he acknowledged the national attention on the case has been overwhelming for all those involved.

“This case is getting a lot of information brought in, and it is taxing on them. But it’s also taxing on us, not getting more updates of what’s going on,” Chris Whiteid said.

Don Aaron, a spokesperson for the MNPD, said Sunday that the department is continuing to "evaluate leads and tips from the public" in its search for Strain.

Barge operators are "keeping an eye" on the Cumberland River and the Aviation Unit has been flying over the river to look for any signs of Strain, Aaron said. Additionally, police boats with sonar capabilities have been on the river to aid in the search, and emergency management resources were searching the water on Saturday.

For now, “we continue to search,” Chris Whiteid said, adding that the family has “had some amazing support” from volunteer organizations — including the United Cajun Navy and A Voice for the Voiceless — that have aided in their quest to find their son, on top of people in the area who are handing out flyers, “doing anything they can to help find Riley.”

Riley Strain
Riley Strain's family is holding out hope that he'll be found alive after he went missing in Nashville on March 8.Courtesy Chris and Michelle Whiteid

United Cajun Navy Vice President Brian Trascher said the group has conducted searches via boat on the river near where Strain was last seen.

Whitney Sich from A Voice for the Voiceless said their group has been assisting in the search for Strain "since day one," helping to create and distribute flyers with information and raise awareness nationwide, as well as having members from the group participate in "boots on the ground" searches for Strain in Nashville.

The Whiteids said they have also been focusing their search around where their son was last spotted.

“We’re very hopeful and we’re moving forward as, you know, he’s coming home and we’re graduating in May and life goes on just as normal,” Chris Whiteid said.

He added that they have no idea where Strain might be.

“If I knew that, we’d have him right now,” Chris Whiteid said.

Strain, a finance and business major, is a financial planning intern at Northwestern Mutual and plans to continue the internship after graduating from the University of Missouri, his stepfather said.

Chris Whiteid said his stepson, who he said is 6-foot-7 and weighs 155-160 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes, “stands out in a crowd.”

“Riley was the guy that knew no strangers,” Chris Whiteid continued, adding that Strain “would walk up to people, talk to them, full of life,” and is “energetic, had charisma.”

“Everybody loved Riley just because he didn’t care who you were, what group you were with. He was Riley, and you were whoever you were,” Chris Whiteid said.

Michelle Whiteid said her son is “very involved with family” and would often pay visits to aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents when he was visiting from school on the weekends.

Strain’s dad, stepmom, stepsister and stepbrother are also in Nashville to help look for him.

“We’re all leaning on each other,” Michelle Whiteid said. “We’re just a really close family — all of us are.”