Tampa father pleads for public's help with son's disappearance

TAMPA — At 4:06 p.m. Monday, he texted his father.

I love you guys. I'm on my way home.

But 16-year-old William Dean Damon never made it to his Tampa house.

Authorities have scoured possible paths from Winter Park, where he had been visiting a friend. They tried tracing his phone, but it's off. They've interviewed friends and checked his computer's search history.

And on Wednesday, the boy's father, Scott Damon, sat in front of news cameras. He swallowed hard, willing himself not to cry.

"We're just worried," he said. "We don't know what's going on."

To those who don't know him, Dean's disappearance had the markings of a runaway case: A 16-year-old who had just moved from Winter Park to Tampa went back to visit his friends and girlfriend. He had $160 and a vehicle.

But Tampa police say Dean's friends have no idea where he could be now. Neither does his girlfriend. They've posted messages on Facebook, begging him to come home.

It appears Dean intended to return. He told his father he'd leave at 4 p.m. so he could make it back by nightfall. A friend saw him pull out of the driveway.

The cellphone, for whatever reason, went dead quickly, police say. Tracing placed him just blocks from the house.

His family is trying not to think of the worst.

"There are various degrees of horrible," Scott Damon said.

Police have had to tell Damon to stop searching, to stay home with his two daughters, ages 11 and 14, who are very upset.

The family plans to have some semblance of a Thanksgiving meal, at least for the girls.

Authorities from Winter Park, Volusia County, Tampa and the Florida Highway Patrol are working the case. A representative from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children flew in Wednesday to help.

They're asking for tips from anyone who may have seen Dean or the navy blue 2007 Nissan Xterra he was driving, which has a tag number 457XXG.

Dean moved from Winter Park with his family several months ago because his dad, an attorney, got a job at a Tampa law firm.

The teen seemed to be adjusting well, his father said. Dean had made new friends at Plant High School and went to wrestling practice nearly every day.

Teachers said he is funny, outgoing and energetic.

The "I love you" text was not unusual, Damon said. Dean was affectionate, especially when he was out of town.

"He's a fantastic kid," his father said.

Police say their work immediately after a disappearance is very important. As time passes, the scope of their search increases, and Dean's resources likely decrease.

He left with cash carefully budgeted for gas, fast food, and trips to the zoo and movie theater. Friends say he did all those things.

He doesn't have a credit card, his father says.

Dean's disappearance is unusual in that it was so abrupt, said police Sgt. Bill Todd.

Dean has never run away in the past. He had communicated with his parents all weekend. Friends said he acted normally.

And this was the boy's third trip back to Winter Park. He had returned promptly the previous times, his father said.

"We don't have any idea where he is," his father said, asking for the public's help. "Contact the Tampa Police Department so we can bring him home as quickly as possible."

• • •

Another teenager who disappeared in an unrelated case this week was located Wednesday.

Nicholas Hubbard-Wright, 15, who ran off Monday, was found safe in front of Scores, a N Dale Mabry Highway club. Hubbard-Wright, who is mentally disabled, is new to the area and has a history of wandering away, typically going to libraries or stores.

He disappeared while his family was at St. Lawrence Catholic Church. Hubbard-Wright jumped from a parked car and took off running, said his mother, Lessie Donaldson.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Tips

Authorities are asking for the public's help in their search for 16-year-old William Dean Damon, who was last seen in Winter Park driving a navy blue 2007 Nisson Xterra with tag number 457XXG. Tampa police can be reached at (813) 231-6130.

Tampa father pleads for public's help with son's disappearance 11/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 10:23pm]

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