HAPPY VALLEY, Tenn. — Michael Edwin Hearon vanished on August 23, 2008. Despite efforts from the Blount County Sheriff's Office, the Happy Valley community, web sleuths, and close friends and family members, Mike has not been located.
Mike is one of nearly 200 people who seemingly vanished in East Tennessee. You can read the full list here.
Mike is a father of two. He's a beloved builder in the Blount County community, and a trail-cutter for the national park. According to his sons, Matt and Andy, he was a joy to be around.
"He was just a real fun guy to be around. He was not boring at all. I'll just put it that way," Matt said.
"He was always really friendly to everyone. A lot of people spoke very highly of him," Andy said.
Mike had two homes. During the week, he stayed at his property in Maryville. On the weekends, he lived at his generational family home in Happy Valley. The property is located at the end of the rural Bell Branch Road.
On Saturday, Aug. 23, Mike called Matt in the morning.
"He said he was going to head up to the mountain, for the weekend, nothing out of the ordinary," Matt said. "He left me a message and I didn't think anything about it."
Andy also saw his dad the day he vanished. He said Mike planned to mow the Happy Valley property over the weekend.
"He came by my house and picked up a lawnmower," Andy said. "I actually passed him in the car, pulling onto 321. He didn't actually see me, but I just got to kind of see him driving off."
Andy was the last family member to see Mike before he was reported missing.
"That always kind of sticks in my mind because it was the last time I saw, at least his truck and was that close to him," Andy said.
Mike's sons didn't hear anything from their dad all weekend. Come Monday, the silence raised suspicion. Both Matt and Andy worked with their dad building homes.
"Usually we're talking to him in the morning, find out what's going on for the day, or what we need to be doing because me and Andy both worked for dad," Matt said.
They called their grandma, Mike's mother, who said she hadn't heard from them either. That's when Matt and Andy decided to go to the Happy Valley home.
"I was starting to worry when we were driving up there just because the whole fact that we were having to drive up there, it was just odd," Andy said. " We've never had a situation where we might not know where he is for a day or half a day or whatever."
Matt and Andy searched the property. They noticed Mike's truck was still at the house. It was unlocked, with the windows down, and his wallet and keys rested on the dash.
"That was really odd, you know, if he planned to go camping or leave for a day, he would have had that or at least hit those things," Andy said.
They ventured inside Mike's home to find nothing was out of place. The doors were unlocked, but both sons said that wasn't out of the ordinary. All of Mike's valuables were still inside the home. He hadn't taken any clothes. He hadn't taken any money.
Then, the sons realized an ATV was missing from the property. They called the Blount County Sheriff's Office.
"That was the first call, then immediately the sheriff's department met us over at his house, which is where his truck was, and you know, we kind of started everything," Matt said.
Within an hour of the deputies arriving on the scene, it started raining. Sergeant Mike Seratt, a detective with BCSO, remembers it like yesterday.
"We were called out to his house at night and I remember it was raining. That was the challenging point to start with. Rain can wash things away," Seratt said.
He said it rained for several days after that.
Despite the weather conditions, BCSO came out early the next day to start a search. Community members joined, too. Everyone wanted to find the four-wheeler. Investigators thought if they find the ATV, they would find Mike.
"We got everybody together on Tuesday morning, very early. That's when we started doing the grid searches," Matt said. "Then, Tuesday around lunchtime is when they had found the four-wheeler."
However, it wasn't found in a normal way.
"It was just really oddly placed, didn't really find a whole lot of evidence, just some tracks, but not really a whole lot of evidence to put together with," Seratt said.
The ATV was parked on the hill sideways down a road that Mike never went, according to his sons. The ATV also had keys in the ignition and the kill switch was off.
"We grew up on four-wheelers and dirt bikes... when you turn something off, that has an ignition switch and a key. You turn the key off, or they'll drain the battery, you know, the lights and stuff," Matt said.
Since the discovery of the ATV, there have been few leads.
"It would definitely be considered a cold case," Matt said. "My mind has gone 100 different ways."
Andy endures the same.
"Your mind is just going over so many different things, and you have so many different ideas, and just so many questions that you just want to be answered," Andy said.
Detective Seratt said the department is always looking for new leads or progressions in the case.
"We get leads, we get tips and we follow up on all of them. We have gotten tips up until like a couple of months ago, and anytime we get tips, we follow up on it," he said.
But, many of those leads lead to dead ends.
Mike's sons are tired of waiting. They've been patient for 14 years. Now, they just want someone to come forward with information so they can get closure.
"I've thought of a lot of different details. But, there's no point in going there because there's just... it's just unknown," Andy said.
It's been 14 years. The sons don't believe their dad is still alive. Both Matt and Andy said their goodbyes years ago. Mike has been declared legally dead.
"We don't believe there's not any scenario that I've ran to believe that he's still alive. I believe that he's dead," Matt said.
But, without answers as to how, where, when, and why it happened -- these sons are stuck wondering.
"It's hard to believe it's been 14 years. It's a lot," Andy said. "I'm just proud we've made it through."
If you have any information that could lead to the location of Mike Hearon, please call the Blount County Sheriff's Office.