Injustice for Tom

Two banners placed in a vacant lot at the corner of 4th and Main, across from Hemphill County Courthouse, were vandalized sometime during the night of July 5. The signs urged the public to remember the death of Thomas Brown—a Canadian High School student who disappeared on Nov. 23, 2016, and whose remains were discovered near the entrance to Lake Marvin over three years later, on Jan. 9, 2019.

The center of each 4-by-8-foot sign warned, “There is a killer among us.” That portion of the banner had been cut out.

The crime was reported to Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office early Saturday morning by Eva Hammer, a member of Moms4Tom, and is under investigation.

Sheriff Nathan Lewis canvassed property owners in the immediate area in an effort to locate any security cameras that might have recorded the vandalism, but was unable to find any. Courthouse security cameras monitor the 4th and Purcell sides of that block, and the courthouse parking lot on 5th Street, he said, but do not cover the lot on the opposite side of the street and a block east.

Lewis removed the signs and reported that they were being examined for any evidence they could yield. His officers also examined the area where the banners were placed. HCSO is encouraging anyone with information connected to the vandalism to report it to them at 806.323.5324.

Anita Webb told The Record that she and two other individuals had paid for the six original banners—valued at $330—and that she intended to press charges against the vandals, if and when they are identified. “We have ordered more,” she said, “and have had many people offer to put them up on their property.

Webb added that an Amarillo company had offered to print new banners for free.

“I know these signs suck,” Webb said, “but they are meant to make people feel uncomfortable.”

“We will go down every avenue necessary until we know the truth, so people better hang on, because this ride is not finished yet.”

Following his disappearance on the eve of Thanksgiving 2016, Brown was the focus of extensive area-wide searches, involving volunteers and law enforcement officials on foot, on horseback, and ATVs, and from helicopters—and later, a team of private investigators hired by the family. Some evidence was recovered on Lake Marvin Road, including his school-issued backpack and laptop—which were discovered three months later but yielded little forensic information—and nearly a year later, his cellphone and a small zippered gun case.

In response to public pressure, and a petition promoted by the advocacy group, Moms4Tom, the case was taken over by the Texas attorney general’s criminal investigations division in early 2018. That was followed by a virtual news blackout, until the discovery of Brown’s remains in January 2019, after which the attorney general’s office issued its only public statement since taking over the investigation, confirming that human remains had been discovered, and that forensic testing confirmed that they were those of Thomas Brown.

An extensive grid search of the area near Lake Marvin by the attorney general’s office and cadets from Amarillo’s police academy was conducted the following month. Since then, the status of the Brown case has remained a mystery. The cause of his death remains, to our knowledge, undetermined. There has been no official ruling of homicide by any of the law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation—which includes Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Rangers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the attorney general’s criminal investigative division.

You Asked, We Answered
The Thomas Brown Case

In response to questions regarding the reward fund, which was established in the Thomas Brown case, we determined this week that the fund was transferred about two years ago from the Hemphill County Sheriff’s Office to Hemphill County.

The action was taken at the insistence of the county auditor, who advised that the account be brought under the county depository contract. Three county officials have signature authority over the account—Judge George Briant, County Clerk Lisa Johnson, and County Treasurer Kay Smallwood.

The fund balance is now $12,176.31. No disbursements have been made from the account, and none have been requested.

The fund was originally established to reward anyone providing information that would help in the search for the Canadian High School student, who had been missing since Nov. 24, 2016. Brown’s remains were discovered over two years later, near the entrance to Lake Marvin.

Sheriff Nathan Lewis declined to identify the individual who made that discovery and neither confirmed nor denied, despite persistent rumors, that they were found by former Deputy Pyne Gregory. We did determine, however, that law enforcement officers are excluded from eligibility to receive any reward funds in this case.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Record has submitted questions to the State Attorney General’s office, seeking an official statement regarding the status of their investigation into Thomas Brown’s death, and requesting specific information as to whether the cause of death has been determined and whether the case is considered a homicide investigation. We will publish their response when we receive it. — LEB

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