DaShad Laquinn “Sage” Smith was supposed to surprise his younger sisters at Thanksgiving. Instead, his family learned that he had gone missing.
Smith’s roommate called the family that Thursday morning to say Smith never came home after leaving to meet a friend Tuesday evening on West Main Street.
“It was really hard for our family,” Latasha Grooms, Smith’s mother, said.
The 19-year-old was supposed to meet Erik McFadden at the Amtrak station on West Main Street, but McFadden told the police he never showed.
Authorities say they have reason to believe McFadden “suddenly left town” after talking with police. He is wanted for questioning, but not considered a suspect.
“I just feel honestly that my grandson is somewhere hurt,” Smith’s grandmother, Lolita Smith, said in a phone interview last week. “We are all at a loss because we don’t know what to do or who to talk to.”
She described Smith as a “happy-go-lucky kind of guy.”
Melanie Miller, pastor for Sojourner’s United Church of Christ, headed up a search party that met at the Amtrak station Saturday afternoon. Nearly 100 people came out to the event, though Miller said she only started organizing it Friday morning.
“I’m extremely moved by the number of people,” Smith’s cousin Alisha Henson said. “If DaShad could see this … he would be pleased,” she added.
Miller said she got involved to fill a need. Smith’s family does not attend Sojourner’s, but Miller led a candlelight vigil in his honor Wednesday night.
Some members of the local LGBT community questioned whether Smith’s sexual orientation has affected the public’s interest in his disappearance.
Smith told his family he was gay at age 16, she said, and started dressing as a woman at 17.
“As time passed, we began to hear the fear and frustration within the community,” Miller said. “I think there’s just a question of ‘why so long?’” she added.
Jennifer Maiorano said she does not know Smith personally, but felt it was important to do her part to help find the missing teen. She and her partner, Samantha Tornello, brought their three dogs to help with the search.
“We don’t really feel much is being done,” she said. “We wish more of the community was out helping,” she added.
Maiorano said the Charlottesville community paid a disproportionate amount of attention to Morgan Dana Harrington’s disappearance in October 2009.
“Every day, all you heard was ‘Morgan Harrington,’” she said.
Henson said she doesn’t want to believe that Smith’s sexual orientation has affected the search.
“It’s not about whether he’s transgender or gay. At the end of the day, he’s a person,” she said.
The search party split up into three groups to search the railroad tracks and 14th Street area, where McFadden lives.
According to police, he was last seen wearing a black jacket, dark-gray sweatpants, a black scarf and gray boots. Smith may be dressed as a man or a woman. He also goes by the nicknames “Sagey” and “Unique.”
“He was not a person who was ashamed of his sexuality,” Grooms said. “DaShad was who he was.”
Anyone who has seen or heard from Smith or McFadden is asked to call Crimestoppers at 977-4000.