BY JOEY LoMONACO
FREDERICKSBURG FREE PRESS
Ever since her son Darius went missing on Jan. 24, Eunice Appiah has been consumed with questions surrounding his disappearance.
Now, she’s seeking answers.
Speaking publicly for the first time since their son’s body was discovered by a band of volunteers in a section of Hazel Run on the morning of Feb. 3, Appiah’s parents lambasted a two-day search effort led by police the previous week that failed to turn up any trace of the 22-year-old Stafford resident.
“How is it that you claim that you had emergency management-trained people searching through this park—no stone unturned—but the community was able to find him?” Eunice Appiah said.
Facing TV news cameras from the edge of the parking lot at Alum Spring Park where her son’s white Lexus was located, Eunice Appiah and her husband detailed their frustrations—not only with the initial search effort but also with what they perceive as a lack of urgency from the time they reported Darius missing to the Stafford County Sheriff’s Department late Jan. 24.
“I understand that there are jurisdictional issues,” Eunice Appiah said. “I just don’t feel like they took this as seriously as they should have.”
Appiah recounted that shortly after she arrived to help police access Darius’s locked car on Friday morning, a K9 handler arrived with a bloodhound to reference a scent on a jacket he’d left inside. She motioned over her shoulder—beyond the playground and toward the general direction of the creek—to show where dogs led the officers.
“We were just waiting, and when the dogs came back, I heard one of the officers say, ‘I think they picked up a scent over by the water.’” Eunice Appiah recalled. “I was a little hysterical.”
Appiah said family members were then told to immediately leave the park, which they took as an indication that something was happening imminently. Instead, the search ended that evening and resumed Saturday morning.
Fredericksburg Police Communications Officer Sarah Morris told the Free Press that law enforcement’s search fanned out from where Appiah’s car was found and ultimately covered more than 400 acres—from Learning Lane near Upper Lafayette Elementary School to Lafayette Boulevard. Local authorities enlisted help from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, as well as helicopters from the Virginia State Police, which helped to survey the Rappahannock River for four miles in each direction.
“It was an all-hands-on-deck, extensive search to try to locate him,” said Morris, who added that police called off their efforts at 3:45 p.m. on Jan. 27.
As she left the park that afternoon, Eunice Appiah couldn’t shake the feeling—a mother’s intuition—that something had been missed. She recalled a conversation in which she says a police commander told her, “I can tell you 100 percent your son is not in this park.”
Undeterred, family members returned the following day, a Sunday, to look on their own. But heavy rainfall rendered the creek bed untenable for searchers, “like a torrent,” according to Eunice Appiah. Most of Appiah’s extended family members work full time, meaning the next window for a search was this past Saturday.
This time, the family took to social media in advance to publicize the search. By 9 a.m. upwards of 200 people had shown up, Eunice Appiah said: it was a mishmash of family, friends and total strangers, most of whom had no technical expertise to offer, only a willingness to help. Darius’ father, Maxwell, a pastor, waded the creek wearing a pair of blue jeans.
Within 45 minutes, they’d found Darius. In terms of straight-line distance, his body was less than a mile from where his car was found in the Alum Spring parking lot.
“The area where he was found was not part of the initial search,” Morris told the Free Press.
The medical examiner’s initial report found no signs of foul play, Morris said. Reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon, the Central District Medical Examiner’s office said a cause and manner of death for Appiah is “pending.” A final report could take anywhere from three to six months, according to the VDH website.
Eunice Appiah said police identified her son from the wallet that was recovered from his back pocket.
But she still hasn’t seen Darius’ body, and, after a phone call with the director of a funeral home, she questions whether she’ll have the opportunity to lay eyes on her son again.
“They said because of how long he was in the water, they don’t think it’s a good idea for him to have an open casket,” she said. “I don’t even know if I’m going to see my child.”