'Just need closure': Dozens of families of the missing seek help at RTIs first Missing Persons Day

Joel Brown Image
Friday, September 8, 2023
Families of the missing seek help at RTIs first Missing Persons Day
Statewide, investigators are trying to find hundreds of people who vanished -- who have families desperately looking for answers.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's been five years since Rikela Smith's brother, Charleston Goodman, vanished in Durham. He was forced into a silver minivan on Woodcroft Parkway by five men he did not know and was never seen again.

"There's not a day that goes by I don't think about him," said Goodman's sister Rikela Smith. "We've continuously been told that all the tips and information investigators have gotten has led them nowhere."

Still holding out hope, Goodman's sister and niece were one of the dozens who descended on RTI International Friday for the research organization's first Missing Persons Day.

"I'm just so glad there's an event like this for us. I think we have to put the humanity back in missing people. I think it's so easily looked over," said Goodman's niece Taylah Smith.

For the one-day event at its headquarters in Research Triangle Park, RTI teamed up with the SBI; the National Missing and Unidentified Missing Persons System (NAMUS); and local law enforcement -- to be a one-stop resource for loved ones of the missing.

There are 572 active missing persons cases in North Carolina. Every photo was posted in the hall during the event.

"We've never had any clue as to what happened to him," Cynthia Hair said after pointing to the photo of her son Dean Hair. Next month will mark five years since Dean disappeared from his apartment in Raleigh's Village District.

"I feel helpless. But I don't feel hopeless," Hair said. "I just need closure."

The event connected Hair and the others directly to experts and investigators for advice. The SBI's top cold case investigator, Nathan Thompson, was on hand pushing families toward DNA swab tests to help match unidentified remains with genealogy website databases

"These are the kits that we would recommend," Thompson said while holding a kit from Family Tree DNA, one of the only two companies which shares information with law enforcement; The other Is GED Match.

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"I think (this database) is tremendously helpful," Thompson said. "If your loved one, your next of kin is in the database, genealogy can be done in a matter of hours instead of years."

Charleston Goodman's mother, Tammie, the most vocal advocate for her kidnapped son didn't live to find closure. She passed away last summer.

"She still had hope that her baby would be found someday," said Smith. "But it breaks my heart knowing that she died probably with her heart in a million pieces wondering where her son was."

While a huge part of Friday's event was about getting families good advice, expertise and adding new information to the NamUS database, there was another common theme: the sense of connection families felt.

For the first time in a long time, many of these loved ones felt as if they were no longer suffering through these mysteries alone.