It’s been three weeks since 18-year old Atticus VanArsdale went missing from his Poway home. The morning of high-school commencement day, the 12th grader at Poway High School failed to show up for graduation practice and hasn’t been heard from since.
Since the day he disappeared there has been no evidence that a crime had been committed. However being 18 years old doesn’t invoke the same continuing level of search as would a minor — a missing child or kidnapping victim — nor does the FBI get involved.
VanArsdale’s case is now labeled a “voluntarily missing adult.” As of July 1, the Poway sheriff’s detective Todd Richards turned over his case to the sheriff’s homicide division — as a matter of investigative policy, not as an inference as to what happened to the young man. Richards explained that the homicide division has the resources to best continue to follow-up at this point.
With the change in case management being the only recent news on the missing teen, I went to Poway to try to find folks who knew him. I was told that teenagers from Poway High School tend to hang out at the Plaza, a shopping center that houses a movie theater and several chain restaurants, located in the 13500 block of Poway Road.
Over a few hours on July 1, I was able to speak with four VanArsdale classmates, graduates in the class of 2014. All described VanArsdale as a “nice guy” and “very quiet.” One teenager described him as “socially awkward.” But Cameron, who knew of him only by seeing him around school, advised, “He wasn’t a loner. He always had friends.”
Dakota and Nicole, who shared a Humanities class with VanArsdale in the tenth grade, said that at the school’s graduation practice, his name was called several times. After his no-sho, his assigned chair was pulled from the lineup.
As the walk-through ended, a sheriff’s helicopter was circling overhead, announcing that deputies were looking for a missing person — tall, with long, blond hair.
Nicole said it didn’t take long for her classmates to make the connection, especially when deputies arrived on the campus to interview them. “It was obvious it was Atticus,” the girls said.
I was informed that there was a girl named Shannon who was one of VanArsdale’s best friends. I was able to reach her by phone as I was leaving the area.
Shannon said she wasn’t surprised by VanArsdale’s complete, well-planned disappearance. “It could have been anyone of the group we hung out with,” she said. “We’re not as down-to-earth as others. We are kind of off-beat,” she added.
When asked about VanArsdale’s demeanor, Shannon said he is a “really sweet guy.” She had no clue this would happen. “It was well thought-out,” she said.
I asked if he was teased at school because of his different-ness.
“He wouldn’t have cared if anyone picked on him, ” she said.
Where did she think VanArsdale has gone?
“Anywhere he wants to be. People need to understand he’s ridiculously smart. If he doesn’t want to be found, he won’t be found. Only when he wants to be found, will they find him." (Others I spoke with also mentioned his extreme high level of intelligence, which they credited for his social awkwardness.)
Shannon said she and VanArsdale hung out at school in a group of 15 to 17 students that she labeled as “The Extras”— people who didn’t fit in with any other group.
VanArsdale is described as a white male with brown eyes, 6-foot 1-inch tall, 170 pounds, with long blond/brown hair that he usually wears in a ponytail but sometimes not. He was also known for usually wearing a fedora hat. His computer and cell phone left at his home were wiped clean. He didn’t take his driver’s license and had no access to bank accounts.
Sheriff’s detective Richards said the case is a “complete mystery.” Homicide detective Hubbert agreed. Trying to keep the case in the spotlight, Hubbert said that a new flyer, with more photos of VanArsdale, would be sent out within the next few days to police agencies around the country.
So far, detective Hubbert says they have ruled out foul play, and have had no leads that VanArsdale has contacted anyone. The only recent leads have been possible sightings.
One can follow the VanArsdale family’s search on their Facebook page, Help Find Atticus VanArsdale.