Families feud in search for missing man [photos]

Families feud in search for missing man [photos]

March 18th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

A picture of Noah Brandon Davis, who has been missing since 2015, is seen as his half-brother Justin Stephens speaks during a vigil held at Sonrise Community Church on Saturday, March 17, 2018, in Rossville, Ga.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Families feud in search for missing man

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Inside a dim church, in front of flowers and candles and a congregation of 15, the brother of Noah Brandon Davis asked if anybody knew where he was. Or more realistically, where Davis was four summers ago, when he disappeared.

Jason Stephens was not close to Davis. They grew up in Ringgold and shared a father, but they only saw each other a handful of times. Their father had a drinking habit and wasn't around much when they were kids. When Davis grew up, he developed a habit, too, becoming addicted to methamphetamine. In July 2014, when he disappeared, the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office was looking for him on a violation of probation warrant.

Stephens didn't follow the investigation. But in December, he read a Facebook post by another one of Davis' brothers, who has tried to stir public interest in the case for years. The post asked if people knew how many siblings Davis had. Subtext was heavy. Here was one brother, posting almost daily about Davis' disappearance. And here was Stephens, doing nothing.

Stephens decided to help.

"My soul, it would not rest," he said during a candlelight vigil at Sonrise Community Church on Saturday, Davis' 28th birthday. "I felt God say, 'I need you to do something.' I could hear my (late) dad say, 'Son, do something. I need you to do something. I need you to be Noah's voice.' And I stand here today to say that, I will not stop until Noah's found."

In the church's parking lot, Joshua Wright got out of his car. He and Davis shared a mother. He is the one who began ginning up awareness of the case. His Facebook page — "Where is Noah Davis?" — has 2,500 likes. "The Vanished Podcast," which spotlights missing persons cases, tracked Wright's efforts over three episodes. This is his life's work.

He walked toward the church's front door, but two men stood in front of him: Stephens' stepfather, and Stephens' brother. They told him he couldn't enter. He walked back, called the police. A Fort Oglethorpe police officer told him he couldn't enter.

"It's my brother," Wright said. "Not theirs. They don't even know him. They're holding an event, raising money, milking it."

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Stephens and Wright were aligned, for about two weeks.

At the beginning of the year, Stephens reached out to him, told him he wanted to help. He explained that his father, Jerry Stephens, gave Davis a bike when he was 9 and saw him again when he was 11. He later became a Christian, tried to mend fences. He reconnected with Davis in late 2012. Though he himself was an addict, Stephens said his father became a Christian. He tried to mend fences. When Davis got in trouble, he said his father paid for a lawyer. He also paid for Davis to go to rehab, right around the time he went missing.

Before all this, Stephens and Wright already knew each other. They're technically cousins, after Wright's father married Stephens' aunt. They've eaten Thanksgiving dinner together.

In January, Stephens and Wright met with a Catoosa County Sheriff's Office detective who has been working the case since 2014. They reached out to some of Davis' old friends. They posted online about the case.

Around the same time, three Internet sleuths with a penchant for true crime offered to help, too. Though they lived on the West Coast, they heard about the case on the podcast. Using public records and some social media deep dives, they believed they could find the killer. Or at least help a detective.

Wright was skeptical. He had been posting online about Davis' disappearance for years. They grew up together, watched stupid internet videos and swam in the lake together. Wright is the one who reported Davis missing in August 2014.

He's the one who recorded conversations with detectives on the case, posting their conversations about Davis on YouTube. He's the one who called in to Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk's weekly show on the cable access station UCTV, asking for updates on the case. Over and over, Wright would ask what was going on. Sisk would explain they were still talking to Davis' friends and running down tips. (He would also add that he couldn't really talk about the details of a pending case on live TV.)

Now, Wright needed to listen to some strangers across the country?

April Wiltbank, one of those strangers, said she and her friends just wanted to present the case to a fresh pair of eyes. At first, she said, Wright was appreciative. He thanked them for joining the team. But within a couple of weeks, they started to question him.

In particular, they didn't understand his timeline. On the "Where is Noah Davis?" Facebook page, Wright posted on Aug. 14, 2014, that he heard Davis was at a store on East Brainerd Road. A Catoosa County Sheriff's Office incident report indicates Wright did not report Davis missing until a day later. (Wright said he actually reported Davis missing sooner than the report indicates.)

And there was also a question about a lie detector. On an episode of UCTV, Sisk mentioned that Wright had trouble when he took a polygraph exam. (Wright said the test's administrator tried to throw him off, yelling and accusing him of the crime until Wright left.)

At any rate, when Wiltbank and her friends questioned Wright, they said he got mad. Wright told them to leave the case alone. He asked Stephens to take his side. Stephens said no. He said Wright seemed paranoid.

Online, people openly speculated about Wright.

"A lot of people Noah knew died pretty close together," a woman named Carla Anderson wrote on Jan. 13, "and his brother is shady."

"I don't believe josh has anything to do with the disappearance of Noah," a woman named Sarah Phillips wrote a day later. But, she added, Wright seemed "fishy."

The group started their own Facebook page: "The World Wants to Know: Where is Noah Davis." Wright believes they've gone too far.

"You don't have a right to hurt people," he said. "Period. And they're literally doing it. There aren't enough cuss words in the world for people like that."

Stephens, meanwhile, stayed in contact with outsiders. He said Wright began sending him threatening Facebook messages. (Wright denies this.) At any rate, a Catoosa County magistrate judge issued a no contact order between the two on Feb. 23, preventing either of them from communicating in any way for six months.

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Despite their differences, Wright and Stephens say their priority is finding Davis. Both say they've talked to many of Davis' old friends, trying to put something together.

Here's what Wright has gathered: something about vehicle issues, then Davis getting hit by a car, then Davis getting hit by another car, then something about Davis and a body of water.

Here's what Stephens has gathered: something about a drug deal in a mountainous area, something about Davis getting paranoid, something about people getting angry at home, something about him getting pushed out of a car. He believes Davis' killers buried him somewhere around Prentice Cooper State Forest.

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"Illegitimate half brother," Wright said the day before the vigil, when asked about Stephens.

He said Stephens was never around Davis. (Stephens, for his part, said he let Davis sleep at his house a couple of times.) Wright also doubts that Jerry Stephens is really Davis' father. Stephens said this isn't up for debate: He has letters from Davis, written from jail to his father, addressing him as "dad."

Though not as active in this case, there are other half siblings on the Stephens side of the family. That includes Jason's twin, Justin. On Saturday night, when Jason stepped away from the lectern, Justin took his place. He told the small group that he, too, feels called by the Holy Spirit to help find Davis.

"Noah was blood," he said. "And he was family. And he was our brother. At the end of the day, we are our brother's keepers."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.


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