MILLS RIVER, N.C. (WSPA) – A Western North Carolina family is asking for the public’s help in bringing their loved one home.
Deputies say Thomas ‘Tommy’ Bryson went missing from his home in Mills River Wednesday morning, in the same area where Phillip Stroupe II was spotted a day earlier.
Law enforcement in Western North Carolina arrested Stroupe early Thursday morning in McDowell County, entering the sixth day of the manhunt.
McDowell County Sheriff Dudley Greene said they were notified around 10:40 p.m. Wednesday that Stroupe may have been in Yancey County because he has family there and was heading in the direction of McDowell County.
Thursday morning, Stroupe was spotted driving Bryson’s Honda Ridgeline along Highway 80. Deputies used stop sticks to slow down the vehicle. They said Stroupe ran, even ducking through a tomato field before he was taken into custody around 4 a.m.
The sheriff says a firearm was found near where he abandoned Bryson’s car, but there was no sign of Bryson.
Bryson’s sons say he was on his way to pick up his sister for a doctor’s appointment around 8:30 Wednesday morning. Deputies say they believe Bryson came across Stroupe pretty close to his driveway in Mills River.
Bryson, 68, is described as 5 feet 9 inches and weighing 175 pounds with gray mustache and hair. He was last seen wearing a plaid, dark-colored shirt, brown cargo shorts and tennis shoes.
Deputies believe Stroupe may have traveled to eastern Tennessee before he was captured, so they’re using all resources to help find Bryson.
“So gentle, and humble and kind, and it’s just heartbreaking to know that something like that could happen to someone like him,” Joey Bryson, Tommy Bryson’s youngest son, said.
Both of Bryson’s sons said they never thought much of the manhunt focused on the community where their parents lived.
“I met the deputy coming down the road,” Bryson said. “I assumed he was just patrolling the area, and that’s when he told me my father was missing, and your heart sinks.”
His sons say they immediately thought the worst because their dad is in great health and very punctual. However, they still weren’t quite sure if his disappearance was connected to the days long manhunt for Stroupe.
“I just thought what are the chances of that happening,” Rick Bryson, Tommy Bryson’s oldest son, said.
They say their dad probably didn’t put up a struggle because he isn’t a fighter.
“As the hours go by, and the days tick on…it reality starts to set in,” Rick Bryson said.
But the family is staying strong in their faith and not giving up hope.
“Incredible, incredible person, and the fact that so many people are praying, we know that God’s going to deliver us from this,” Joey Bryson said.
Law enforcement agencies are offering a $2,500 reward for any credible evidence that leads to Bryson’s return, and Bryson’s family is offering a $10,000 reward. If anyone has any information, they can call 828-697-4911.
Stroupe’s first court appearance is set for Friday morning in McDowell County.