Jason Landry left his apartment in San Marcos, Texas around 11:00 pm on Sunday, December 13, 2020. The 21-year-old, who was a student at Texas State University, had finished all his finals and was heading to his parents’ home in Missouri City, Texas for winter break. He was in a good mood when he set out to make the 165-mile drive to Missouri City, but he never arrived at his parents’ house. His Nissan Altima was found, wrecked and abandoned, later that night; it was just 30 miles away from his apartment. Jason wasn’t anywhere near his car and he was never seen again.
A volunteer firefighter returning home after a call found the Altima on Salt Flat Road near Luling, Texas shortly after 12:30 am and called the police, telling them that the car had crashed into a tree. An officer with the Texas Highway Patrol responded to the scene of the crash but found no sign of Jason. Initially, the officer believed that they were likely dealing with a drunk driver who had crashed his car and then fled the scene to avoid getting arrested. He called for a tow truck to pick up the Altima and take it to an impound lot.
When the car was found, its headlights were on and the keys were still in the ignition. All the doors except for the front driver’s side door were locked, and Jason’s cell phone and some other personal belongings were found inside. Around 900 feet away from the car, the officer found Jason’s backpack, a ball cap, a small bag of toiletries, and a plastic tumbler containing his beta fish, which were de*ad. Inside his backpack, the officer found a small amount of marijuana, Jason’s laptop, and some gaming equipment.
While the officer was waiting for the tow truck to arrive, he went through the glove compartment and found the car’s registration; it was registered to Jason’s parents, Kent and Lisa Landry. The officer called and told them that the Altima had been in an accident; when they learned that Jason wasn’t at the scene, Kent immediately drove to Luling to see what was going on. Kent, the senior pastor of a Missouri City church, was desperate to find his son and didn’t feel that the Highway Patrol was doing enough to locate Jason. He decided to conduct his own search of the area.
Kent found several articles of Jason’s clothing, including a pair of shorts, a shirt, a pair of socks, a pair of underwear, a pair of shoes, and a wristwatch. Interviews with Jason’s friends at school later confirmed that the items of clothing found in the street were the same items he had been wearing when he left to make the drive home. This seemed to indicate that Jason had stripped out of his clothing after getting out of his wrecked car, despite the fact that the temperature was only a few degrees above freezing.
Investigators said that there was no evidence Jason’s car had been forced off the road; all the damage to his car had been made when he impacted two trees after skidding off the road. It was possible he had swerved to avoid hitting a deer and then overcorrected, resulting in his car spinning around and slamming into the trees, hitting them trunk-first. There was no paint or other evidence to suggest a second vehicle had been involved.
By Monday night, state and local police departments, as well as dozens of volunteers, were involved in the search for Jason. Investigators believed that the crash had likely occurred shortly before it was discovered, meaning that Jason had only a limited amount of time to get out of the area before police arrived. They weren’t sure if he had walked off on his own or had been picked up by someone, but no one came forward claiming to see him after the crash.
Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Deon Cockrell said that a handful of different agencies were assisting in the search, but by Tuesday night they still didn’t know what had happened to Jason. “We have searched the entire area with DPS helicopters, drones…other agencies have come out, state and local…even the Texas search and rescue team with their canines.” All came up empty.
Lisa Landry was worried that Jason had been injured in the crash and was unable to make his way home. “He’s alone, he doesn’t have his phone or his wallet, and it’s cold outside…maybe he’s hurt.” A few drops of blood had been found on some of his clothing that had been left in the road, but it wasn’t enough to suggest he was seriously injured.
Despite the fact that they hadn’t found any indications that Jason was still in the area, Sgt. Cockrell said the search would continue. “We’re going to keep on searching until we think there’s no hope, which could be two days, three days, four days from now. We’re going to keep on searching until we either find him or find an answer.”
The search intensified on Tuesday, and Texas EquuSearch joined the hunt for Jason. Search teams combed through the remote area northeast of Luling where the car had been found. Felix Cortinas, who owned property in the area, told reporters, “It’s a place where someone could easily get lost. A lot of old wells…old wells that were never even capped or cemented, just holes. And a lot of creeks, a lot of steep banks.”
Tracking dogs were able to pick up Jason’s scent leading away from the car, indicating that he had walked away from the accident. The dogs followed his scent toward Luling for about a quarter of a mile before it disappeared; it was possible he had gotten into a car with someone at that point.
The search continued on Wednesday, and officials decided to search a pond that was near the accident site after search dogs seemed to pick up Jason’s scent near the edge of the water. The search team got a sonar hit that resembled the shape of a body, prompting the decision to drain the pond. Jason’s family tried to prepare themselves for the worst and waited anxiously while the pond was drained. There was no sign of Jason.
The Texas Department of Safety and members of Texas EquuSearch spent Thursday going back over several areas near where Jason’s car had been found, looking for anything that might have been missed in the initial search. They didn’t come up with anything, and admitted that they were starting to fear the worst.
A reporter asked Kent if he thought Jason might be hiding somewhere, afraid to come home because he had wrecked his parent’s car, but Kent didn’t think that was the case. He did, however, have a message for Jason. “Don’t worry about that…the car is just a stupid car. We love you. Call someone. Call the police. Come home. We just want you home.”
A week after Jason went missing, there had been little progress made in locating him. A prayer vigil was held for the missing man on December 20, 2020, and his parents thanked the community for all of their support during the search effort. Kent noted, “We are living the worst dreams of every parent. It feels like a bad dream. A bad dream we’ve been hoping to wake up from…I pray my son is alive and pray that someone is taking care of him.”
The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t immediately called to investigate Jason’s disappearance as the Highway Patrol officer who responded to the car crash hadn’t thought there was anything unusual about the accident. This meant that investigators from the sheriff’s office never had a chance to look at the car before it was towed to an impound lot; Jason had been missing for nearly a week before the case was transferred to them. Caldwell County Sgt. William Miller admitted, “There were certain things that weren’t done in the first hours after the discovery…we weren’t conducting a true missing persons investigation.” Once the case was handed over to the sheriff’s office, they had to play catch-up. They were working to determine where Jason had been in the hours before the car crash and were interviewing his friends and classmates.
On December 22, 2020, volunteers with Texas EquuSearch said they would be suspending their search for Jason. They felt that the entire area had been thoroughly searched without finding any evidence of Jason; they assured Jason’s family that they would launch another search if the sheriff’s office developed any credible leads about where Jason might be.
Investigators combed through an additional 300 acres of land near Luling but didn’t find any sign of Jason. They also used a drone to take video footage of the entire area, which was then painstakingly combed through for any potential evidence. As with all the other searches, however, they came up empty.
As the physical search for Jason drew to a close, Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law felt confident that the missing man was not anywhere within the 31 square miles that had been searched. “We will not speculate on what may have happened to Jason, but we feel the vast area surrounding the accident scene has been thoroughly searched and Jason still hasn’t been found.”
Detectives from the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office traveled to Missouri City and interviewed Jason’s parents and siblings; they also collected several things that had been found inside Jason’s car so they could be processed for potential forensic evidence.
Kent made a public appeal for anyone with information about his son’s whereabouts to come forward. “If someone knows something, [or] might know something, might have seen him…please tell someone.” He was desperate to have his son home in time for Christmas.
Sgt. Miller told reporters that he didn’t have enough information to form an opinion about what had happened to Jason, but he was still hoping to find him alive. “We are trying to run down all of our leads. It would have been easier if we had started a week ago.” Jason’s family agreed; they were very critical of the way the Texas Department of Public Safety had handled the case and wondered if Jason would have been found immediately had the case been assigned to the sheriff’s office from the beginning.
On January 29, 2021, the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office stated that they had been able to gain access to most of Jason’s cell phone and computer data. They learned that he briefly stopped using his GPS to open Snapchat on his phone at 11:24 pm on the night he vanished. He missed a turn and ended up on Salt Flat Road, where his car was found at 12:31 am. Although his cell phone was still on and had a signal, he never used it again after 11:24 pm, and officials were trying to determine what happened after that.
In a Facebook post, the sheriff’s office wrote, “There is no evidence that Jason was traveling to meet with or had communicated intent to meet with anyone in or around Luling.” They believed he had ended up on the isolated dirt road simply by accident after missing a turn he should have taken.
The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Rangers were working together to process evidence in the case; this included submitting several of the items for DNA testing to confirm that they belonged to Jason.
On February 26, 2021, Texas Search and Rescue conducted a three-day search for Jason. The group used dog teams, searchers on horseback, drones, and helicopters to scour Caldwell County. They covered around 50 square miles but unfortunately found no sign of Jason.
In May 2021, Jason’s family announced that they were offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to his safe return. Tuleta Copeland, a retired FBI agent who volunteered to search for missing people, noted, “If you know anything or if you’ve seen anything, we can protect you…we can keep you confidential. Just call us and talk to us.”
A year after Jason set out to drive home for the holidays, he was still missing. Although his case remained open, investigators hadn’t been able to develop any substantial leads and still had no idea what had happened to him. Both the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office and Texas Search and Rescue had conducted several additional searches for the missing student but hadn’t found any clues to his whereabouts.
Months went by and the case started to stall. By December 2022, Jason had been missing for two years and investigators couldn’t agree about what happened to him. While detectives with the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office believe that Jason walked away from the accident and vanished on his own, his parents and a retired FBI investigator think that he was the victim of a crime.
Kent thinks that the initial officer on the scene wrote Jason off the moment he found marijuana in his backpack. “It just feels like your child is discarded, because they treated everything with this investigation with such indifference.” Kent pointed out that he was the one who found Jason’s clothing in the road — after Jason’s car had already been towed.
By the second anniversary of their son’s disappearance, Kent and Lisa had resigned themselves to the fact that Jason was likely no longer alive, but they wanted to know what had happened to him and bring him home for a proper burial.
Abel Pena, a retired FBI agent who heads Project Absentis, a non-profit organization that helps the families of missing persons, said that he and his team of investigators believe that Jason met with foul play. “I think the biggest red flags for us were the clothes just being laid where they were placed…we all agreed it appeared like it was staged.” He doesn’t believe Jason was behind the wheel of the car when it crashed.
Caldwell County Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Ferry agrees that Jason is likely de*ad, but he doesn’t believe that it was the result of a crime. He noted that Jason had messaged his friends about marijuana and other personal things that night. “When we look at the totality of things, it really paints a picture of almost an internal crisis that Jason is dealing with.” He thinks that Jason fled on foot after crashing his car and they have just been unable to find his remains.
Jason’s parents just want to find him, no matter what the reason behind his disappearance might be. Kent pointed out that law enforcement seemed to make their mind up immediately that Jason was just a college kid on drugs and thus put little effort into finding him. “They saw his clothes lying in the middle of the road and didn’t even bother to pick them up. If you literally think there is some college student naked in 30-degree weather…shouldn’t you at least search for him?”
For Jason’s parents, siblings, friends, and other relatives, he will always be more than just another missing college student. They have done everything possible over the past two years to raise awareness about Jason’s disappearance and make sure that he isn’t forgotten. They have held prayer vigils, organized searches, and raised reward money. They hold their breath every time an unidentified body is found. And they hold onto the memories of all the good times they shared with Jason, praying that they will one day be reunited with him.
Jason David Landry was just 21 years old when he went missing from Luling, Texas in December 2020. Jason was driving home to Missouri City, Texas from his apartment at Texas State University in San Marco when he vanished; the circumstances surrounding his disappearance are murky and investigators have been unable to determine exactly what happened to him that night. Jason has brown hair and brown eyes, and at the time of his disappearance, he was 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 170 pounds. Jason has a scar on his left ankle and one on the right side of his neck. If you have any information about Jason, please contact the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office at 512–398–6777.