Feb. 16 update: Since this story aired, there have been updates in the case. Click here to read the latest.
(NewsNation Now) — Tommy Howe is a recent college graduate who just started a new job. The 24-year-old lives in an apartment with friends in downtown Chicago, but a bizarre chain of events Jan. 22 has investigators wondering where he is now.
It started with a crash on a highway in the northern suburbs of Chicago.
Police say he hit a guardrail, then veered back into traffic and hit another car. The two vehicles stopped in the median.
Then, Howe got out and headed toward a nearby forest preserve.
“We are baffled at this point and we truly believe he was completely disoriented,” said Tommy Howe’s father, Tom Howe.
Tom and MaryMargaret Howe, Tommy Howe’s parents, were expecting the 24-year-old for lunch that day. When he was late, they checked his phone’s location. It led them to a tow yard where they found their son’s smashed car.
“At this point, we’re in a panic. We had no idea where he was,” Tom Howe said. “Was he hurt? Because the vehicle is destroyed. As a parent, it was absolutely heart-wrenching.”
Calls to local hospitals yielded no sign of their son. The couple begin scouring the area near the crash site, but have not found any answers.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is he can think through any situation,” MaryMargaret Howe said. “It just seems like something doesn’t add up, something doesn’t make sense.”
Law enforcement and hundreds of volunteers joined the search. Days later, police found Tommy’s work cellphone in a forest preserve next to the highway, but not a shred of other evidence providing leads.
“It’s a nightmare,” Tom Howe said. “Every morning we wake up and we’re getting a couple hours of sleep a night. We wake up in the morning and for about 10 seconds you think, ‘Oh I’m glad that nightmare is over,’ and then it hits us.”
Tommy told his parents he was getting more stressed about working from his apartment during the pandemic, and extended his holiday stay at their house. Earlier in the day of his disappearance, he sought help from a counselor.
“He was smart enough to come home to us a little bit before Christmas and say, ‘I just think I need help with this anxiety,’” MaryMargaret Howe said.
His parents contend Tommy was in no way a threat to himself or to others. Police have not been able to unearth any theories, either. Antioch Police Chief Geoff Guttschow said there’s no evidence of distracted driving or red flags about his behavior.
His mother believes a flight response may have kicked in when Tommy crashed his car.
Hundreds of law enforcement personnel, volunteers, family and friends have joined in the search by passing out flyers near the site of the crash.
Nearly two weeks after the crash, Tommy’s parents shared a simple message for their son:
“Please know that you are not in trouble by any means,” MaryMargaret Howe said. “Anyone will graciously greet you and get you home to us. It’s all really, really OK.”