By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Mother wants answers in case of missing son
Eric Waters, aka Travis Eric Smith, hasn't been seen since Dec. 20
Travis Eric Smith
Travis Eric Smith

A Portal man has been missing for a month, and his mother wants state agents to join the search. However, she said local authorities denied her request to call in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Eric Waters, aka Travis Eric Smith, went missing Dec. 20, after he had been paid and dropped off at an acquaintance’s Candler County home.

His mother, Frankie Waters,  said she was told her son was last seen on Westside Road near David Colley Road, along with another man, assisting someone with an alleged mechanical breakdown.

Several of Eric Waters’ friends have launched search parties over the past few weeks, and some have found what she considers strong evidence that something bad happened to her son, she said. The evidence and information has been turned over to Bulloch County Sheriff’s investigators, but Ms. Waters said she is not satisfied with progress and wants additional help.

“But they (Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown and Inv. William Simms) told me they didn’t need the GBI,” she said. “They said they are handling it.”

Bulloch County Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Hutchens confirmed the sheriff’s office has had no need to call GBI to assist in the missing persons search.

“They do not have any resources at this time that will benefit us in working towards the location of Eric Smith,” he said.

The Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office has at least two other unsolved missing persons cases that they have not requested assistance in from GBI;  the case of Mark Waller in 2015 and Quent Garbett in 2007.

“At this time there is nothing they can do that we aren’t doing.”

But Ms. Waters said she feels the more investigators involved, the better chance there is of finding answers. “They know my youngun’ is dead. They have audio and screen shots (of alleged witnesses) talking about it and what happened. Why can’t they find my youngun’?”

Alleged evidence has been shared with the Statesboro Herald regarding Waters’ disappearance. Two of Waters’ friends who have been heavily involved in their own  searches – Justin Smith and Sarah Shipman – have shared the information with investigators as well, but the Herald is not yet revealing the information shared so as not to hamper or taint the investigative efforts of the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office.
In an emailed response to questions by the Herald, Hutchens said “Not sure what all information you are being told but we are actively working every lead we have. The investigation is ongoing and the search for Smith continues.”

When asked whether foul play is suspected, he said “I will tell you it is unusual for a person to drop contact with everyone he has been associated with, but until we have some confirmed evidence or information leading us to foul play, I cannot confirm that at this time.”

In order for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to become involved in a case, they must be requested by another governmental agency and cannot be requested by individuals such as family members, he said.


On a silver platter

But Waters said she doesn’t understand why the information shared with the investigators has not led to answers. “It is spelled out – handed over on a silver platter – who, where, and why.” Property she feels should have been searched, has not she said.

Hutchens said every bit of information is being examined and “it is like a puzzle. Some have 10 pieces, some have 500 and they all have to be put together.”

Waters said the first three weeks after her son disappeared, she heard little news. It was after friends started searching and a Candler County man was involved in an incident with Waters’ friend Justin Smith that things began moving faster.

Tanner Lanier, a man who was reportedly one of the last people to be seen with Waters, was arrested after reportedly chasing Smith in his truck, ramming Smith’s vehicle with his own and firing shots as Smith and his wife. Smith said this happened when he drove past Lanier’s home as he looked for clues as to Waters’ disappearance.

Lanier was released on bond, charged with aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during commission of a crime, and possession of methamphetamine. A few days later, after an investigation at his Stockinghead Road home in Candler County, he was arrested again on charges of possession of marijuana and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, said Candler County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Justin Wells. Lanier was again released on bond but was not listed in the Candler County Jail roster.

Ms. Waters said Brown and Sims visited her and called her this week to assure her they were still actively working on the case.

Brown was not immediately available Friday for comment on the GBI issue or the missing persons case, but told the Statesboro Herald during a personal interview last week they “are doing all they can.”

Waters is 35, stands 5’11”, weighs around 160 pounds and is of medium build. He has red curly hair and green eyes and was last seen wearing jeans and hoodie, according to fliers distributed by friends of the family and posted on social media.

He has several tattoos on his arms. On one side of his neck is a tattoo reading “laugh now” and, on the other side, “cry later.” He also has a turquoise tattoo on his neck.

Hutchens said anyone with any information about the case should contact the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office at 912-764-8888. Tips may be made anonymously.

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 912-489-9414.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter