Cole Thomas' family hopes arrests will be 'the start of finding him'
Posted July 18
Benson, N.C. — With the arrests of three men on Monday, it is clear police believe 22-year-old Cole Thomas is dead, but friends and family members have not given up hope.
Thomas was reported missing on Nov. 25. Two friends said he was driving home to Florida for Thanksgiving dinner from a job in Minnesota when he pulled off Interstate 95, hopped out of the car near North Elm and East Morgan streets in Benson and vanished.
One month later, investigators learned that Thomas had been involved in a drug deal before his disappearance. The two men who were with Thomas confirmed to authorities that they had purchased methamphetamine from an acquaintance. After the deal, they said, Thomas became paranoid and started driving erratically before he stopped the car in Benson and ran off.
Last week, investigators from the Benson Police Department and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation presented the findings of an investigation into Thomas’ disappearance to a grand jury, who handed down multiple indictments.
Julian Valles Jr, 34, of Dudley, Anthony Ridell James Jr. 26, of Mt. Olive, and Rudolfo DeLeon Jr, 27, of Mount Olive, were charged with one count each of felony concealment of a death.
Relatives have driven up from Florida every two weeks for eight months to help search for Thomas.
"We need to find Cole," said Teresa Cruse, Cole's cousin. "We need these guys to tell us what happened to Cole and where Cole is at so we can find Cole. Cole needs to come home, it's been too long. It's overdue."
Thomas does not have family or friends in Benson, but the tight-knit town came together to help.
"Folks here were checking local properties in barns and silos and tobacco barns...looking for any evidence of their actions or recent steps," said Benson Town Manager, Matt Zapp.
On Tuesday, Thomas' family issued a statement expressing gratitude and hopefulness.
"Today marks 235 days since our son Cole Thomas vanished from our lives, this has been the most devastating thing that has hit our family, ever. We have desperately waited for answers to where Cole is, we pray this will be the start of finding him.
We cannot express our gratitude to all those who have supported us through this nightmare and all who are aiding in bringing those to justice; there are too many to name.
We will continue to seek the truth and will not give up, not give in until Cole Thomas is home again and whoever is responsible for his disappearance or harming him is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," the statement said.
Valled, James and DeLeon were being held at the Johnston County Jail Monday night. Valles was being held under $750,000 secured bond, DeLeon under $1,000,000 secured bond and James under $350,000 secured bond.
Police would not say if Thomas' body has been found.
Authorities said no further information about the indictments would be released, due to court proceedings and an ongoing investigation.