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Cousins reported missing five months after one another, family seeks answers

As of June 26, there are 722 people missing in Tennessee, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In just three months, 30 more people have been reported missing in the state of Tennessee. It brings the number up from 689, on March 22 to 722 on June 26, 2023. These numbers are based on data collected by the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS), which is updated by law enforcement on a daily basis.

Two people on that Tennessee list are Christopher Murray and Derek Smith. They were both reported missing in 2022. They also happen to be cousins.

Christopher was the first to be reported missing. Not much is known about his disappearance. He was taken into custody on February 18 for unlawful drug use. However, according to the Knox County Sheriff's Office, his case was dismissed on February 22. 

He then visited his mother Cindy Jett's home. She said she didn't know he had been in jail.

"I thought he was clean when he left. I don't know that he was doing drugs. I had no idea," Jett said.

She also said he left in a hurry.

"On February 22, he left. He said, 'I'm gonna call you tomorrow at 3:30. Will you come pick me up?' I said 'Yeah,'" she recalled. "It was hard. I begged him not to go. I didn't have a good feeling about it. I knew what was gonna happen."

Cindy said her son hadn't always suffered from substance abuse disorder. It happened slowly over the course the time.

 "He is really outgoing. Loves everybody, and always has loved everybody. Everybody loved him," Cindy said.

She explained Christopher used to share dreams of wanting to preach the word of God from nation to nation. He even went on a mission trip to do so. Cindy said he never went anywhere without his bible.

Christopher's high school friend, Tabatha Brooks said his character was unmatched.

"He was one of the sweetest people you would ever meet. He was someone that would help anybody. He wasn't part of a crowd. He got along with everybody. He was friends with everybody. He was just the school sweetheart," Tabatha said. 

Unfortunately, she said the two lost touch as the years passed.

Somewhere along the line, things started to change for Christopher.

"One night he came to me and told me he had to go to rehab. It was like a hit in the gut. If you talk to anybody who knew him, he wouldn't be the last person you ever dreamed of," Cindy said.

Then, in February of 2022, he vanished.

It wasn't long before things started to take a turn for his cousin, Derek Smith too. Both men shared a struggle with substance abuse disorder.

Rita Jett, Derek's grandmother was his primary caretaker. She said he didn't have an easy upbringing. She took over custody of him 29 years ago, when he was just five years old.

However, things changed for Derek after a car accident in 2008. He had to undergo surgery for his injuries.

Doctors prescribed him opiates to manage some of the pain. Rita said those prescriptions later escalated to an addiction, triggering more unpredictable behavior in her grandson.

"When he's not on drugs, you couldn't ask for a better person. He's on drugs? He's like the headache and the heartache that I'm sure everybody goes through that's got kids," said Rita.

Derek and Christopher were close. Derek was reported missing on July 22, 2022, according to NAMUS. Exactly five months from the day Christopher disappeared. 

"It's hard on everybody, just trying to really figure out and push on every day," she said. "I miss him and I wish Derek was here." 

Cindy feels the same. Since Christopher vanished she has been taking care of his elementary-aged son.

"He misses his dad. And I know he misses his dad. And again, he wouldn't have left it would have never left him. Ever," Cindy said.

Now, the family focuses their efforts on searching for the missing cousins. Rita explained how they have put up posters in some area of town looking for Derek.

Cindy shared that she regularly drives past homeless camps and gas stations on the lookout for her son. Though she goes through the motions, more than a year later, she is less hopeful.

"There's a small chance you think maybe he's still alive. But, deep in my heart, I just don't think so. I don't have proof of it. I just want him to come home or let me know where he's at just so I can have closure. His son deserves closure," Cindy.

If you have any information that could help the Jett family get closure. You can provide tips about the whereabouts of Christopher Murray through the Anderson County Sheriff's Office at (865) 457-6255. Or, leave tips about the whereabouts of Derek Smith through the Knox County Sheriff's Office at (865) 215-2243.

For more data and reporting on the missing person crisis in East Tennessee visit wbir.com/Vanished.

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