‘Not like the movies’: Inside the search for a missing Gwinnett man


On this day, Tracy Sargent and her K-9s are searching for a Lawrenceville man who disappeared more than a year ago in a drug-induced rage.

Over the last quarter-century — across the country and around the world Sargent’s Georgia-based investigation team has helped track good guys and bad, missing persons and escaped convicts. They looked into the international Natalee Holloway mystery, and into the decade-old disappearance of Gwinnett County teen Justin Gaines.

They helped look for Kelly Nash, the man whose disappearance near Lake Lanier drew headlines for weeks. They recently led police to the remains of Chase Massner, the young Cobb County Marine Corps veteran missing under suspicious circumstances.

But on this day, Sargent and her canine companions — Chance, a yellow Labrador retriever, and Draco, a black German shepherd — are looking for a young man named DeCorrius Jones.

And they’ve found something.

**

DeCorrius Jones disappeared in an acid-driven outburst, family members say.

He’d already been experimenting with the psychedelic drug for a few days when he took some the night of Oct. 15, 2016. The affable 20-year-old told friends and family the acid was expanding his mind, making him see more clearly.

But as that October night at Lawrenceville’s Sugarloaf Crossing Apartments turned into morning, it merely fueled altercations — first with his girlfriend, then with his mother.

“I was trying to diffuse the situation,” the mother, Shacora Jones, said. “And things went sour.”

**

Now, 13 months later, it’s not long before Chance finds the bone.

He’s less than 20 minutes into an initial search, romping among the pine trees and dry creek beds that make up the property between Sugarloaf Crossing and nearby industrial buildings, when he signals.

Chance is trained to sniff out human remains, and the 7-year-old lab has been doing it most of his life. So when he finds a wide, pencil-length bone and sits down — his signal — Sargent pays attention.

She brings out Draco, the shepherd, and he signals, too.

Gwinnett County police Officer Henry Mesa, who is accompanying Sargent and crew on the search, takes a picture of the bone and texts it to someone at the local medical examiner’s office. The picture is sent to a forensic anthropologist, too.

They’ll say for sure if it’s human.

**

The morning of his disappearance, Jones took off running down the stairs from his second-story apartment, presumably into the nearby woods. Six-foot-3 and 250 pounds, wearing nothing but navy blue basketball shorts.

His mother and girlfriend let him run, figured it was safer that way, that he’d cool off for a while and come back.

He never did.

Loved ones spent hours and days and weeks canvassing the same woods where Chance and Draco did their work this month. They canvassed nearby businesses, they distributed 4,000 flyers. Gwinnett County police detectives worked the case.

Nothing.

**

The bone is not a human one.

The folks at the medical examiner’s office could tell the bone belonged to an animal of some sort. Sargent theorizes that, in order for her highly trained companions to have signalled like they’d found human remains, someone must’ve, say, cut themselves and bled in the area where the bone was found.

The bone being there too was a coincidence. There’s no need to call in the Gwinnett police department’s crime scene unit to tape off the area and collect the bone for further testing.

“This is not like the movies,” Sargent says.

Sargent takes both dogs and “grids out” the search area, walking them back and forth among the pine needles for a more careful and complete examination. They don’t signal again.

**

About two months ago, nearly a year after Jones’ disappearance, his father’s employer offered to pay for the services of Patricia Lane Investigations, a Cumming-based private investigation firm. Lane assigned team member Jane Holmes to the Jones case. Holmes brought Sargent and the K-9s in as part of her larger investigation.

There has been no real progress since private investigators joined on — though Jones’ father’s company, Suwanee-based Millenium Mats, is now offering a $5,000 reward in the case.

Jones’ mother is holding on to hope. She expects new developments in the case in the coming weeks. And she believes her son is still alive.

“I think he’s somewhere just not ready to come home, not ready to face the reality of what’s happening,” Shacora Jones said. “Ashamed.”

**

Sargent, who provides her services to both law enforcement agencies and families, has performed more than 900 searches over the years. Many have been fruitful, some not. It can be a long, painstaking process.

“In one case in particular, we searched 28 individual places,” Sargent says. ” … And at the 28th location, we found the remains.”

“We now know where [Jones] is not,” she adds. “That’s a good thing.”

Holmes, the private investigator, is left to figure out what’s next.

She says she’ll begin looking into Jones’ phone records and identifying the friends he corresponded with (using nicknames), and that she’ll try and speak with the coworker who purportedly gave Jones the acid that night. She won’t call on Sargent and Chance and Draco again unless she has a specific, “high probability area” to search.

The rational assumption, she knows, is that Jones is dead somewhere. But maybe, just maybe, his mom is right.

“There may be more to the story,” Holmes says later.

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The AJC's Tyler Estep keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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