(NewsNation) — The mother of a young engineering student and champion racquetball player who has been missing for two years is hoping social media can find her son.
Dane Elkins, from California, disappeared in December 2020. Deborah Elkins, his mother, believes he had a psychotic break and has been living off the grid or with the homeless.
Deborah Elkins has launched an intense social media campaign in hopes of finding her son and bringing him home.
The day he disappeared, Dane Elkins made a rambling video post on Snapchat.
“He did one last Snapchat and told us that the government was after him and our family. That is when we knew something was really wrong,” Deborah Elkins said.
Before his disappearance, Dane Elkins was a 21-year-old engineering student at UC Santa Cruz. He was also a black belt in karate and a racquetball champion, winning 23 junior national titles in both doubles and singles competition.
“it was an amazing pleasure to work with him, you know. He was a true gentleman, amazing manners. Super hard worker,” said Cliff Swain, Dane Elkins’ racquetball coach.
Off the courts, Dane Elkins was a funny guy who liked to spend time with his family, making silly music videos with his siblings.
“His family meant everything to him. He never missed a birthday party a celebration. They weren’t just his siblings, they were all his best friends,” Deborah Elkins said.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing people into isolation, Deborah Elkins noticed a change in her son.
“He would be laying in his bed all day. And then he would disappear into the night,” she said. ” He left our house and told us he was going to stay with friends, but he was actually living in his car.”
On Dec. 21, 2020, Dane Elkins called his mother from the highway, saying it wasn’t safe for him to come home.
“One of the last things Dane said to me was, it’s not safe Mom. Your life is in danger. Mom, there’s targets on you. And there’s more targets on dad,” Deborah Elkins said.
Police found Dane Elkins’ car along a mountainous section of highway with a flat tire. His wallet, cellphone and computer were still inside.
“I think Dane was really scared to be tracked by the government. So he left everything traceable in his car,” Deborah Elkins said.
Research, from both the U.S. and other countries, suggests that scenario may be more common since the start of the pandemic.
“I interact with families all the time, who have a loved one who’s basically disappeared or partially disappeared, they’re in touch occasionally,” said Bethany Yeiser.
She runs a nonprofit to help people with schizophrenia, after her own psychotic episode left her living homeless for four years.
“I had had a wonderful childhood growing up with a loving family and I completely cut them off. I really believe if I hadn’t been hospitalized for schizophrenia, I would have never gotten in touch with them again,” Yeiser said.
In Dane Elkins’ case, there have been a series of reported sightings. First in Bakersfield, then Mojave and finally in Northern California, where a woman said she bought him food at a Taco Bell in Oakdale. That sighting was in July of 2021.
“He was a younger gentleman probably in his early 20s — nice looking, but a little scruffy like he had been traveling on the road for a while. He was very polite, and he said thank you and he was very well-spoken,” Kelly Christine said.
The most recent sighting came in April 2022, on the Santa Cruz Wharf where a young mother and her son were approached by a man who resembled Dane Elkins.
“He was a super nice guy. He was super nice. He seemed a little scared of the government, so I gave him a $20 bill and as I was leaving, I heard him order a water and taco,” Kayde Roper said.
Deborah Elkins is confident Roper was speaking about her son.
“All the credible sightings, Dane accepted food, and he was very polite and kind. And he specifically asked for bottled water, which he loves bottled cold water,” Deborah Elkins said.
But in two years, no verifiable phots or video have been taken. And there’s been no contact from Dane Elkins. His mother is now focused on the kindness of strangers and social media to help find him.
“I am hoping everybody is keeping an eye out for him. And I hear about it in real time so I could get to him before he leaves the area. If you are able to take a discrete photo or video so we can identify him that will be very helpful,” Deborah Elkins said.
Dane Elkins’ younger brother, Cody, has followed in his brother’s racquetball footsteps, being picked for Team USA.
“I was saying in my head, like this is for your Dane. And so I know he’d be proud,” Cody Elkins said.
He hopes they’ll get to play together one day.
“I never stood a chance as a kid. But you know, I’d like I’d like him to train for a couple months and play me and see what happens. It would be fun to play,” Cody Elkins said.
Deborah Elkins has asked that if people see Dane Elkins, they not call him by name because it could trigger his paranoia. Instead, she would like people to be kind, chat with him, offer him food if they can and then call (562) 504-6005 immediately to give the family details so they can try to find him and try to get him the help he needs.