Vanished: What happened to Thomas Dias?

Published: Feb. 13, 2022 at 12:30 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2022 at 8:25 AM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Patricia Smith doted over her firstborn, Thomas Manuel Dias. His family friends call him, Tommy. He loved skating and skateboarding, anything that boys would do, according to his mother.

“He’s generally got a very good heart. Very sweet. He’ll give the shirt off of his back,” said Smith.

Tommy was born in Orlando, Florida, and is the oldest of three children.

“Sometimes when they were little, they would fight because he was the oldest. But yeah, for the most of it, when they got up in the teenager’s age, they were good together,” she said.

Tommy later ditched the skates to work on cars and eventually got into disc golf. Smith quipped that he wasn’t good at first but eventually got better.

She shared one of her happiest memories of Tommy, when he returned home from Pennsylvania and the family visited Daytona Beach. The 37-year-old returned home free of drugs and alcohol, something she said he struggled with growing up. Smith thought he was still doing well when he decided to leave Central Florida to explore the Grand Strand.

“He winded up in a campsite that he was working up there near Myrtle Beach, and he had found a disc golf course up there,” she said.

Tommy arrived in Myrtle Beach on May 7, 2019. He disappeared four days later.

Myrtle Beach Police said Tommy was last seen arguing with his friend outside of Old Chicago Pizza in Murrells Inlet. Police arrested the friend, while Tommy rode off on his bicycle. He hasn’t been seen since. When Smith couldn’t get ahold of her son, she filed a missing person report with police and said he was staying at the Sands Bucket Motel on Ocean Boulevard.

“I’ve searched through prison records, jail records, everything I’ve looked up and he’s not in jail. I called the coroner’s office. They don’t have him there,” said Smith.

She also flooded social media with missing person flyers and paid organizations to post about her son until the money ran out.

“The not knowing is what really tears you apart,” she said.

“We talked to his friend, we’ve talked to family members. There’s not been a lot of close family friends with him that have gotten too much with him, unfortunately,” said Myrtle Beach Police Detective Chris Starling.

Starling has worked on Tommy’s case for the last three years. He’s one of at least 20 missing person cases in the city, and Starling said this one’s been challenging from the start.

“It was about two months from when it was actually reported to us. So, obviously, that leaves a little bit of distance in between where he might be possibly staying at and where he was located at the time,” said Starling. “Being that she hasn’t talked to him more than once a month, figure 12 times a year, we didn’t really have a lot of information as to where he could have gone or who he was hanging out with, their friends, just because she lives in another state, so it made it a little more difficult that way.”

Starling said he too checked jails, hospitals, mental health facilities and nothing. He checked if Tommy left behind a digital footprint or any cell phone activity. But, his phone went straight to voicemail, his last Facebook post was in 2018.

“The hardest thing to find is somebody who doesn’t typically break the law, who really isn’t active on social media, isn’t active with the phone,” he said.

Police also said there were no street cameras at the time when Tommy disappeared and neighboring businesses didn’t have surveillance video. Even if they did, they said it wouldn’t have helped.

“If the footage has already been destroyed from seven days before or 30 days before, obviously, getting something a month and a half or two months later kind of eliminates that,” said Starling.

He said the only new information he’s most recently received, is that Tommy could have changed his name and left South Carolina. Sometimes, he said it’s because people want to disappear.

“We’ve had that before. I believe it’s possible he might have just wanted to get off the grid a little bit. Didn’t want to deal with anybody,” said Starling.

We asked Smith if Tommy wanted to cut ties with family and friends but she said that’s not her son.

“More than likely, no, because that’s out of his character. I mean, he does like to go off for a while and not contact anybody, but eventually, he runs out of money and he always calls. When the calls stopped and the asking for the money stopped, that really, you know, pushed a button, ‘Hey, something might be wrong,’” she said.

“Whatever information I have is what I can work with,” said Starling. “Obviously, I want to do everything I can to bring their loved one home because that’s somebody important to me too. Stay in touch with us. Don’t think that we’re not looking just because you haven’t heard from us. If anybody sees something, give us a call. Say something to us.”

Smith said she continues to text her son and write loving messages on his Facebook page. She’s been relying on prayers for someone to find him over the years and hopes this interview will be the one to finally bring him home.

“This was my chance to say, ‘Hey, maybe this lady can help me, you know, she can get it out there where I can’t,’” said Smith. “I wanted to thank you. It means the world to me that you reached out.”

If you have any information on Dias’ whereabouts, you’re asked to call the Myrtle Beach Police Department at 843-918-1300.

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