Family, friends and concerned citizens of a missing Upshur County man united at the county's courthouse Friday in a protest designed to raise awareness in the case.
Luke Stout, 23, was last seen July 18 at his residence on Hickory Flat Road in Upshur County. Family and friends displaying signs during Friday's protest questioned whether police are doing enough to investigate the case.
Many citizens honked the horns of their vehicles in support of Stout and the protesters as they passed the courthouse.
The Inter-Mountain photos by Melissa Toothman
Family, friends and community members take part in a protest Friday at the Upshur County Courthouse, trying to raise awareness in the disappearance of Luke Stout. Above, protester Brenda Russell, left, hugs her 6-year old granddaughter, Destiny Simmons. To the right, Kate Kitzmiller and Ashley Ball, of Buckhannon, hold signs for their missing friend.
In an email to The Inter-Mountain, Patricia Metzler said Stout's mother, Elizabeth Stout, was hosting the protest to show disapproval for the way the case has been handled by police.
"He's been gone for a month and the circumstances that surround it are suspicious," said Julia Champion, a Rock Cave resident who heard about the protest and came to help.
"We're not going to give up until we find him," said Gini Sarver, a family friend from Shinston.
"He's been gone
for a month and
the circumstances that
surround it are suspicious."
Multiple protesters were in agreement with Brenda Russel, a protester who said she heard police were not taking statements about the case.
"Honesty and integrity is real important in my life, and I feel that the police department should be the same way," Champion said.
Many signs used by the protesters implied police investigators had turned down assistance from a search team that offered to help find Stout.
"If the police are doing what they're supposed to be doing, why are they turning them down?" said Moriah Moore of Buckhannon, a friend of Stout.
Sarver said she didn't understand why police would turn down help from search parties.
"It's at no cost; it can't hurt anything," she said.
Champion said Stout's cellphone was offered to investigators and was not taken as part of the investigation.
West Virginia State Police representatives confirmed they are investigating the case and the investigation is ongoing.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Stout family. I know this is an emotional time for them," said 1st Sgt. D.B. Swiger, district commander for the Buckhannon and Philippi detachments of West Virginia State Police.
He declined to make a statement about the protesters' claims about police allegedly turning down help from a search team.
Swiger also declined to comment about whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation also is involved, but he did say state police would consult with the FBI if needed.
Swiger encouraged anyone who has any information regarding Stout's disappearance to call the West Virginia State Police at 304-473-4200.
"Our investigation is active and continuing. Many times there are things that go on behind the scenes that we don't release to the public, the media and the family members to protect the integrity of the investigation," Swiger said.
Sarver said her son is friends with Luke Stout, and they often played basketball.
She said Stout has a good sense of humor. He was "always smiling when he was over at my house."
Stout is described as having short brown hair and brown eyes, being 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighing between 120 and 130 pounds. He was clean-shaven at the time of his disappearance.
He was last seen wearing blue jeans, a shirt with cut-off sleeves, black shoes with neon green laces and a brown jacket.
West Virginia State Police say there may be a connection between Stout's case and the discovery of the body of Joshua Oberg.
Oberg's remains were discovered in a shallow grave along Bull Run Road in Upshur County in July, leading to the arrest of three men in an alleged murder-for-hire case. Robert Eugene Siron III, 30, of Weston, and Jesse Lee Heater, 28, of Buckhannon, have been charged in connection with that case and have court hearings scheduled for Monday.
Rodolpho Correa Villagomez, 32, of Buckhannon, also is believed to have connections with Oberg's case. Villagomez is set to have his court hearing Tuesday.