Police, Family Ask For Help In Finding Chad Austin's Murderer

Harrison M. Branham
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Ellen Austin speaks at press conference.

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Media at the press conference.

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Chad Austin's family.

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Ellen Austin speaks at the press conference.

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Chad Austin in a birthday photo.

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Chad Austin's senior photo.


Oct. 21 - On the eve of his 32nd birthday, Chad Austin’s family is asking anyone with information to come forward to help solve his murder investigation.

“To even fathom that our son’s life was taken so early, is so hard for our family to bear,” said Ellen Austin, Chad’s mother, at a news conference this afternoon alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ellen Austin was accompanied by her husband David and several of Chad’s family members.

“To have Chad missing for a year and then to find out your son is dead has been horrific,” Ellen Austin said. “Some were saying that at least you found him, but that doesn’t even begin to help us have closure because there are still so many unanswered questions. That’s why we need your help - everyone’s help. No matter how big or small, if you know something, please call state police or the Buena Vista Police. Please do this for our family.”

Police recovered Chad’s skeletal remains in March in the area of Panther Falls, where he was last seen in May 2019.

The investigation into Austin’s disappearance began when law enforcement were alerted at approximately 12:30 p.m. on May 28, 2019, to Chad’s silver 2006 Hyundai Tiburon being found abandoned about 2 miles down the turnoff for Panther Falls Road. His beloved, mixed-breed dog, Gunner, was found unharmed and locked inside the car. Investigators were able to confirm that Chad was last seen on Memorial Day, May 27, 2019, by campers in the Panther Falls and Shady Mountain area, east of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A search of the immediate area resulted in several personal items belonging to Austin, to include two knives, being found about a half mile from his abandoned car. Both knives were found with the blades in the open position. Additional forensic evidence collected at that location confirms that a struggle took place between Austin and his killer that ultimately led to his death. Six months after he was reported missing, Austin’s wallet turned up at Panther Falls.

“We especially want to hear from the individual(s) who returned Chad's wallet to the scene more than six months after his disappearance,” said Virginia State Police Special Agent Kevin Zirkle on scene in the Panther Falls area today. “It was not overlooked on previous searches of that area. We know it was intentionally placed there and, perhaps, there is a very reasonable explanation. We have been trying to figure out why that person, though, has not contacted us yet.”

State police have also been able to confirm through text messages on Chad’s phone that in the days leading up to his disappearance and death, he was anticipating being confronted by a group of individuals who were determined to settle a disagreement with him.

“We have no reason whatsoever to believe that Chad was looking for trouble, but we do know that he had a reason to suspect a confrontation was inevitable,” Zirkle said. “We know there are additional people in the Buena Vista community who know certain pieces of information related to Chad’s death, but are fearful to come forward for a number of reasons. We want to reassure these individuals that our number one goal is to correctly identify the person who did this to Chad. We know this was the act of one person, but that others were witness to his murder. We need to hear from those persons in order to render an arrest and see justice done for Chad and his family.”

With the development of several new leads related to his disappearance and death, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s (BCI) Salem Field Office continues to work collaboratively with the Buena Vista Police Department and Amherst County Sheriff’s Office to render an arrest in this case.

This afternoon, Ellen Austin showed media new “Justice for Chad Austin” fliers the family will be circulating. She asked that community members share his image on social media to encourage others to come forward with information.

Those with any information about Austin are encouraged to call the Virginia State Police at (540) 375-9589 or contact the investigators by email at questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

The News-Gazette

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