MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - It's been more than eight months since anyone has heard from a missing Aynor teen, but Zachary Malinowski's family isn't giving up hope.
In a special report, WMBF News Anchor Michael Maely had the opportunity to talk to Zachary's grandfather, who is breaking his silence, in hopes that his voice will lead to tips that could bring his grandson back home.
James Marcus remembered the last time he laid eyes on his grandson. "Every day, when I go in and out of that gate, that's where I saw him last, that's where I think of him," he said.
Marcus also remembers the last words the two shared.
"I said, 'Where you going, boy?' 'I'm going to Aynor to play basketball.' I said, 'You know you got a time limit, and don't get into any trouble.' 'I won't, Papa, I love you,'" Marcus recalled.
The memories remain at the Conway home, where Marcus and his wife, Pat, opened their doors to let the 19-year-old stay for a couple months. Marcus said he and his wife were working with Zachary and just didn't have him long enough.
Friends tell police Zachary made it to the Aynor park to play basketball, and confirm the teen went to a friend's house before saying he was going to get something to eat.
Police say Zachary texted a friend; she said she was asleep and didn't see the messages until the next day.
That was in August. Since then, no one has seen Zachary. His car was discovered eight days after he went missing.
Marcus got a tip that led him into a wooded area on Valley Forge Road, near Aynor, after someone from the CUE Center for Missing Persons found Zachary's sandals along the road.
"I could see the top of a vehicle," Marcus recalled, but it was hidden by brush and trees.
Marcus said he walked back to where the burned remains of Zachary's 1996 Chevrolet Beretta were located. He admitted he wouldn't walk up to the car, which was barely recognizable, because he was afraid he would find his grandson in the worst way.
Marcus said Horry County detectives found no remains inside. Still hanging on for answers, Marcus knew there was one piece of evidence that would prove it was Zachary's car.
"My mother, for whatever reason, had put a little serrated steak knife in the door on the passenger side. I was walking away and I thought of that knife … that was steel, it's not gonna burn," he recalled.
The knife was right where Marcus remembered.
"I'm just thankful that it was found," he said, "It's a starting point."
It was a starting point that has led to more searches, but no more signs.
"I just stand here and think, 'Where's he at? Talk to me, tell me, I'll come and get you,'" Marcus cried. "I promised him that I wouldn't stop looking until I found him."
Marcus said cell phone pings from Zachary's phone went off near the location of his car possibly around 4 a.m., the night he went missing.
He doesn't understand how no one saw the bright blaze, and asks a question that still hasn't been answered: "How could you go by here and not see, from 4 a.m. until daylight, why someone wouldn't see those flames as bad as that car was burned?" Marcus wondered.
Marcus said he has heard that Zachary's cell phone also pinged earlier that evening at his home, which suggests Zachary made it back home at some point.
Marcus made another discovery, shortly after Zachary's disappearance. He noticed a dent in his truck. Zachary's car was always parked next to Marcus' truck when he was home.
He said he showed police and told them the only place the truck is parked, is at home and work. He said when it's at work, he parks on the outside lane, where no other cars park.
He thinks an altercation involving Zachary may have caused it, and thinks maybe Zachary was taken from home.
"I'd tell [Zachary], there's a lot of people you don't need to be friends with," Marcus recalled. "The only people who have your back is your family."
Horry County investigators said the people they've been talking to in this case have been difficult and not forthcoming with information, but detectives say they are pursuing information and leads.
Marcus said he knew his grandson was gone when he found the charred car. He tries to cling to better memories.
"He was happy; he was a funny person," Marcus said of Zachary.
Marcus said for now, every day, his family feels paralyzed, without answers.
Horry County Police say despite the suspicion of foul play, they're still calling the case a missing person investigation and continue to pursue tips from anyone.
Police ask anyone with any possible leads to call 915-TIPS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All tips are left anonymous.
Meanwhile, Zachary's stepfather is working with South Carolina lawmakers on a bill that gives rights to the families of missing persons. Click the link to learn more about Zack's Law.
WMBF News first reported on Zachary's disappearance in August. Click the link, here, to review the story.