James Martin Roberts — known as Martin to friends and family — left his Boone, North Carolina apartment around 10:30 am on Thursday, April 21, 2016, and headed across the campus of Appalachian State University. The 19-year-old told his roommates that he was going to the library, but when he ran into his cousin at a bus stop on the corner of Rivers Street and Blowing Rock Road, he told her he was going back to his fraternity house. He never arrived at either place and was never seen again.
Martin had been a student at Appalachian State University the previous year and joined the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, but he had gotten into some trouble after he was caught drinking and driving and decided to take some time off. He moved back home to Kernersville, North Carolina for a semester, then returned to Boone and signed up for online classes at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute. Some of his friends were unaware that he had switched schools, and Martin planned to start taking classes at Appalachian State again in the fall.
Martin’s roommates were interested when he didn’t come home from the library on Thursday, but they weren’t too worried. Rod Jordan, who lived with him, said, “It wasn’t too unusual because he stayed with other friends.” They thought he had gone somewhere else to spend the night and would be back on Friday sometime.
When Martin’s dad, John Roberts, couldn’t reach him on Friday, he got worried. He called Martin’s landlord to see if he could check on him. The landlord talked to Martin’s roommates, who said that they thought he was in his room because the door to his bedroom was shut. When they went into the room, they saw Martin’s things but no sign of the teenager. He was going to leave for a while, as shown by a note on his desk.
Martin’s note wasn’t very clear, but it didn’t say that he was going to ki*ll himself. John thought it looked like his son just wanted to “get off the grid” for a while. John was hopeful that one day he would be able to see his son again. “The note’s general nature gives us hope that he didn’t know what he wanted to do and didn’t know how to get out of where he was.”
Martin wrote in his note that he felt bad about himself because he hadn’t taken advantage of all the chances that came his way. He might have only gone to college because he thought that’s what his parents wanted. Then, when he didn’t do well in his first semester, he felt bad for letting them down. John said, “People of all ages and walks of life go through this.” These people get into trouble and don’t know how to get out of it. Sometimes they don’t handle it well, so they just disappear.
Martin didn’t say in the note that he was suicidal, but he did say that he was going to make big changes in his life. Others thought he might have wanted to join the Peace Corps or another humanitarian group, while others thought he just wanted to go somewhere he could live without electricity or water.
Everything Martin owned, including his wallet and ID card, was left in his bedroom, along with his clothes, electronics, and other things. The only thing that wasn’t in the apartment was some food that he bought right before he disappeared. The only thing he seemed to have brought with him was food.
Martin was in a good mood the last time his dad talked to him. He said he was applying for several jobs and sounded like he liked school. His family later found out that he hadn’t gone to any job interviews or logged into any of his online classes in over a month. He may have skipped these activities because he was afraid that his parents would be upset and disappointed if he did. According to John, Martin’s note said that he was going on some kind of trip, which his family hoped would only last a short time.
Martin was last seen by the Boone Police Department on Friday. Police got surveillance video from the Appalcart bus that Martin’s cousin had taken, which showed Martin walking down Rivers Street. The video stopped seeing him as he got close to the corner of Rivers Street and Hardin Street. They couldn’t find any more surveillance footage of the missing teen.
There was at least one person who said they saw Martin on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Trout Lake, but investigators couldn’t confirm this. People knew that Martin liked to hike on the trails near the Blue Ridge Parkway, so it made sense that he might have gone there. Police searched the area with an infrared radar-equipped North Carolina State Police helicopter, but they couldn’t find Martin.
In the words of a family friend, Martin was “a good kid who lost his way.” He was usually very outgoing, but when he came back to school after a semester off, he took his studies more seriously. His roommates didn’t even know that he hadn’t been going to class.
Martin and some of his friends, including Holly Nicholson, went to a nearby café the Tuesday before he disappeared to play puzzle games. At the time, Holly hadn’t noticed anything strange about Martin’s behavior. “He had a great sense of humor and told many jokes.” Everyone liked being around him, and he made everyone happy.
Abel, Martin’s mother, said it was strange for Martin to just disappear without calling anyone, and she was worried about his safety. “It hurts to think that she doesn’t know how much she loves him.” She hoped that he would see how many people were there for him, from family and friends to strangers, and know how much he was missed.
John said that all he could think about was the search for his son. “This event is very strange, unusual, and out of the blue.” Martin has never done something like this before, where he just left and was by himself. We didn’t see it coming and didn’t think something like this could happen. He hoped that someone in Boone had seen Martin and could help him figure out where he was.
The police said that Martin’s note didn’t make them think that he was going to hurt himself, so they were just treating the case like any other missing person case. They talked to bus drivers but couldn’t find any who remembered picking Martin up, which made them think he had walked off campus. A lot of people, including many of Martin’s fraternity brothers, volunteered to help look for the missing student in and around campus.
Martin had left everything in his room, including his cell phone, and his father didn’t think he had much cash on him. Someone may have given him money or a ride without knowing that he was missing. Detectives asked anyone who thought they had talked to him to get in touch with them. They made it clear that all they wanted was to know that Martin was safe. His family really wanted him to come home, but detectives said that he was an adult and they wouldn’t tell anyone where he was if he didn’t want them to.
Investigators said they followed up on all of the tips they got in the days after Martin went missing. Police Capt. Andy Le Beau in Boone said. It’s been our goal to base searches on the information we gather. When someone tells us about a possible sighting spot, we go there and search it. They were sad that they hadn’t found any hints about where Martin was.
Martin’s family and friends were dying to hear from him as the days went by. They thought he might have gone hiking to clear his mind and then hurt himself on the trail. Family members were staying in Boone to help with the search. Every day, they went out and looked everywhere for Martin. They could not find any sign of him. John said, “Unfortunately, he could have gone a lot of different ways and been a lot of different places.”
Two weeks after Martin went missing, the police said they were looking in more places. Parts of Virginia and South Carolina, as well as parts of North Carolina, had been searched. Along the Appalachian Trail and other places Martin might like to be outside, missing person flyers had been put up. Chief of Police for Boone, Dana Crawford, said, “We owe it to his family to look under every rock and turn every page we can find in order to find something.” There is someone out there who knows something.
For information that leads to Martin’s location, Crime Stoppers said they would pay $1,000. Investigators hoped that this would help them find new leads. They said they didn’t know where Martin might have gone as the days turned into weeks.
Martin hadn’t been seen in a month, but police were still trying to figure out what he was doing in the hours and days before he went missing. There were large chunks of time they couldn’t explain, and they thought he might have been with someone who knew where they could find him. “Martin was hanging out with someone here in the High Country area,” Capt. Le Beau said. Some parts of his day aren’t accounted for, and we know that someone knows about this…We’d love to talk to you. It doesn’t have to be public; we just need the data.
A search team looked all over Trout Lake on June 1, 2016, for Martin. It was possible that he wasn’t still alive, even though his family wanted to believe he was. That’s why this search was focused on finding his body. “All other efforts have been based on the idea that he’s out there and we can find him,” John said. “Whether it’s because he’s hurt or because he’s taken some time off to be by himself.” Now, cadaver dogs were used to look around the area for any signs of death. The search turned up nothing.
As John’s birthday approached, his son Martin did not call to wish him a happy birthday. People who knew Martin well were sure he would have, so his failure to do so made them even more desperate to find out what had happened to him. John had said, “Hearing from him that he’s okay and safe would be the best birthday present in the world, no matter when he’s ready to come home.” He was upset that they hadn’t talked in a while.
Police asked people to be extra careful as they opened their vacation homes for the summer since the search for Martin had been going on for more than two months. “He could have broken into a vacation home and been living off of their pantry for a while,” Capt. Le Beau said. Even though we’re doing everything we can, we still can’t find anything. There is still a wall between us and the goal.
Detective Kevin Wilson of the Boone Police Department talked to experts at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children because he didn’t know where else to look. It was good that the NCMEC investigators were happy with how much work we had done. They also had some new ideas and could provide services that we don’t have locally. They will keep helping us with our investigation.
Martin’s 20th birthday should have been on August 19, 2016, and his mother decorated the cake to honor the event. On Facebook, she asked him to get in touch with her and let her know he was okay, even if he didn’t want to go home.
The case didn’t move forward much over the next few months. On the anniversary of Martin’s disappearance, the police decided to look over the whole case file again to see if they missed anything. They used 35 search warrants to get into Martin’s bank accounts, cell phone records, and email accounts as part of the investigation. Since Martin went missing, none of them had been used, and they didn’t hold any useful information.
It had been years since Martin’s case was last heard. Police said that they had searched for the missing student dozens of times but were still not sure what had happened to him on the fifth anniversary of his disappearance. They were still getting tips every week, but they hadn’t been able to follow any of them through to a solid conclusion. Also, Martin hadn’t been seen since he walked down Rivers Street after talking to his cousin. His trail ended just a few blocks from where he lived.
There was still hope among Martin’s family and friends that they would see him again one day. His dad told him, “We still have hope because there’s no reason not to.”
James Martin Roberts was last seen in Boone, North Carolina, in April 2016. He was only 19 years old. Martin wrote in a note that he wanted to take a break and that he felt bad that he hadn’t taken advantage of all the chances that had been given to him. Detectives aren’t calling it a suicide note because Martin didn’t seem to want to hurt himself in any way. Martin was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 145 pounds when he went missing. He has blue eyes and brown hair. On his right ribcage is a quote by Bob Marley. On his left forearm are red, blue, and black mountains. An Appalachian State University windbreaker, white socks, gray New Balance sneakers, and a white visor were the last things that were seen on him. Please call the Boone Police Department at 828–268–6900 if you know anything about Martin.