You go into your teenage son’s room to wake him up for school, and he’s not there. What’s worse, his bed is still made. What follows is every parent’s nightmare: calling the police, searching, and the sinking feeling you get when something maybe horrifying has happened. It’s a feeling one family knows all too well.

When a 15-year-old boy disappeared from his hometown without a trace in 2016, his family was left in agony over the mystery and loss. Their search efforts felt futile until the police resorted to the one tool that broke the whole case wide open…

High school can be the most trying and formative years of a person’s life. The pressure from peers, family, and teachers mold you into the person you will become. Fifteen-year-old Aubrey Carrol was facing all of this and more.

Aubrey’s parents had recently gone through a divorce that resulted in Aubrey moving to Spalding County, a town about an hour away from his childhood home. Aubrey started a new school and was soon making friends. It seemed he was settling in.

But custody battles kept things turbulent, and before the school year was over, Aubrey was forced to move back in with his father, Michael, in Jones County. To keep a little consistency in Aubrey’s life, it was agreed that he would finish out the school year at Spalding.

This meant that every day Michael drove over an hour so that Aubrey could catch the bus for school. With all this extra travel, Michael had to be strict about how much social time he allowed his son. This proved difficult for Aubrey as he was very socially spirited.

Aubrey was feeling unhappy and restless with these new limitations. In mid-May he acted out in what Michael reported was just a minor incident. Nonetheless, he found himself in trouble with the authorities. This trouble, it turned out, was only foreshadowing the big ordeal his family would encounter just days later.

On the morning of May 24th, 2016, Michael dropped Aubrey off at the bus stop as usual. This would be that last time he saw his son because later that afternoon when Aubrey’s stepmother, Leah, arrived to pick him up after school, there was no sign of him.

Aubrey was supposed to take exams that day, which he had apparently completed. It was clear that he attended school, but after that, the trail went cold. Even his friends claimed they had no idea of his whereabouts.

Michael reported his son missing to the police. He refrained from relaying Aubrey’s disappearance to his mother in Spalding because he was sure it was just a classic teenage runaway case. Michael was certain Aubrey would return home soon enough.

As days turned to weeks, there was still no sign or trace of Aubrey anywhere. Michael’s concerns grew to fears and Aubrey’s mother, Danielle, was beginning to get suspicious, and finally, Michael had to come clean.

As January approached, there were still no leads on locating the boy. Aubrey’s birthday came and went and his family was imagining the worst. In a desperate and more aggressive pursuit, the police issued a missing person poster with a $5,000 reward in hopes that would coax out more information.

Despite the tireless efforts of Aubrey’s family and the police, it seemed that Aubrey had fallen off the face of the earth. His family never stopped searching, but everything felt grim as the days continued to pass. Then, on April 10th, 2018, almost two years after his disappearance, the police made a breakthrough.

A Facebook profile had been found with pictures of a young man whose resemblance to Aubrey was uncanny. The Facebook profile was under a different name, but the age of the young man pictured would be about Aubrey’s current age. 

The police showed the Facebook profile to Aubrey’s family and they confirmed without a doubt, that was him! Aubrey was alive and well, and it seemed he had lived quite the adventurous life in the last 2 years. 

Investigators tracked Aubrey to a group of hippie travelers. He’d spent the last couple of years traveling all over the West Coast and Midwest working odd jobs and bartering. Existing off cash with a transient lifestyle meant Aubrey had no paper trail.

Though his family was overjoyed to hear that their son was alive, it was agreed that no one would reach out for fear they might scare him off. This must have been extremely difficult after not seeing their son for years. But his parents wanted to do what was best for Aubrey, so they held back.

Eventually, the restraint became too much and a family member reached out to Aubrey. Much to everyone’s relief, Aubrey quickly responded. A phone call was arranged with his mother, and by April 16th, Aubrey was back home in Georgia, reunited with his family.

Aubrey shared tales of his life on the road when he returned home. Local police officers say some of the things he’d done and experienced would “make your jaw drop.” Aubrey’s story wasn’t the gruesome nightmare that his family had been worried about after all. 

Statements from Aubrey confirm that he was not harmed in any way over the past two years. Police relay that, “He told us that he left on his own, and had not been abducted, hurt, abused, exploited, or harmed in any way.” Aubrey was just seeing how the other half lived.

As of 2018, the reason for Aubrey’s running away remained unclear. His family was just excited to have him home safe and sound. Social media, for better or worse, is still bringing us closer together. More importantly, though, it’s bringing us back together.

Reporters gave Aubrey the chance to send a message to all those who’d been looking for him during his two-year disappearance. Check out the video below to see what he had to say!