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SPRING HOPE -— After eight months of continued coverage in this newspaper, detectives have developed new leads and witnesses in the case of a Wilson man missing from southern Nash County for nearly two decades.
Travis Lamont Lynch, 21, vanished from his girlfriend’s home near Middlesex on Christmas Eve 2003.
Maj. Miste Strickland of the Nash County Sheriff’s Office is one of the case’s lead investigators. She said she’s interviewing new witnesses and pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. The case is no longer cold.
This is where our story gets bittersweet. When I joined The Enterprise and Wilson Times in July 2019, I brought with me the experience of writing about hundreds of homicides and helping law enforcement solve a handful of those cases along the way in my nearly two-decade reporting career.
I wanted to apply my knowledge at The Enterprise in a manner most likely to matter. So instead of writing about multiple unsolved cases as I normally do, I concentrated all my efforts on one case.
I chose Travis because I remembered seeing a missing person poster in the window of a Spring Hope gas station five years ago when I moved to town. I took that as a sign of the family’s determination to find out what happened to Travis.
And beginning on Christmas Day 2019, the 16th anniversary of his disappearance, and for 32 straight weeks, we published an article about Travis offering new information and perspective with each report.
My effort bore fruit. Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said the stories, especially appearing week after week, stirred the pot and got people talking to the point that his detectives have new leads to follow, which was the goal all along.
But success of this type is double-edged. Because now that investigators have new material to work with, they’re playing that information closer to the vest, limiting what can be reported in the newspaper right now.
I understand and respect the process. I grew up listening to classic rock-and-roll. I know like REO Speedwagon sang, “Talk is cheap when the story is good.”
The sheriff’s office is hard at work. I know when to get out of the way.
Over the last several months, our reporting followed Travis’ last hours. We showed he spent time at a notorious nightclub near Bailey. We reported for the first time about suspicious fires at a mobile home a stone’s throw from that now-shuttered seedy establishment. We provided meticulous details about his vehicle that vanished with him.
Our reporting has publicly unveiled two suspects: Travis’ girlfriend Carlisha Whitley and her uncle Sean Whitley, both innocent in the eyes of the law until and unless proven guilty in court.
I interviewed a cast of characters from Carlisha, who insists she passed a polygraph test; detectives who spent countless hours working Travis’ case; police chiefs and retired law enforcement officers; tearful family members who are left with a Travis-sized hole in their lives; reporters who wrote about the case when it was hot, cooling off and cold; and finally, a mother frozen in time. Poor Jackie Lynch who lives two lives: The strong woman forced to move forward for her daughter’s sake and the broken mom still sitting in her son’s room that Christmas morning he didn’t return home, his holiday clothes laid out for him on his bed.
Miss Jackie has called me so many nights just to ask if I’ve heard anything new, searching for reassurance of hope in a world so ruthless it produced people who would take her son and leave her without answers year after year.
It’s unnatural for a mother to lose a child. It goes against the order of things. But Miss Jackie did lose Travis. No one has found him yet.
Having exhausted the available material and unwilling to drag things out for the sake of having a story, I must acknowledge it’s come time to draw my weekly series to a close. But I have not — and will not — stop my search for Travis and learning his ultimate fate while keeping readers abreast of any updates.
Maj. Strickland won’t stop either. Nor will Travis’ uncle Joe Lynch, a retired state trooper.
Travis will be found and given a proper burial. The people who made him disappear will at last pay for their crimes. After 16 years, I feel the arc of the moral universe is finally bending toward justice.
Lindell J. Kay is a reporter for The Enterprise and The Wilson Times. Reach him at 252-265-8117 and firstname.lastname@example.org.