Billboard driving along I-35 with Timothy Perez’s photo near Georgetown. (Courtesy: Robert & Sandra Perez)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Robert and Sandra Perez have gotten used to the drive.

Every few days, they head from Conroe to Austin to look for their missing son, Timothy.

“We’re going to homeless shelters and any food places where they give food out — my son is not a homeless person — he doesn’t know that environment. But hopefully his instinct kicks in and he’ll go get something to eat,” his father, Robert, said.

They drive for hours across Central Texas talking to people and posting flyers.

“You know, we just need eyes out there — something, you know? Where did he go? He was here in Round Rock,” Robert added.

“We need help, because we don’t live around here,” echoed Timothy’s mother, Sandra.

Timothy, a 32-year-old musician in the Houston area, has been missing since March 5. His family said he was driving to Austin to visit his brother, but they never connected.

“He’s really bad with directions. So, I’m sure he got all turned around and he just got lost,” Sandra said. “He’s not familiar with the area. And so, in the process of getting lost, he ran out of gas.”

‘Where is he?’

The family filed a missing persons report with Austin Police.

They said an officer found his car without gas along Interstate-35 near Parmer in north Austin, but no signs of Timothy. 

“Where is he? That’s the everyday question. Where is he?” Sandra said. “He was having a rough time, but I don’t think this was his plan. Who plans to run out of gas and walk off.”

The Perez family has posted this flyer across the Austin are. (Courtesy: Robert & Sandra Perez)

Timothy’s parents said he was dealing with some depression during the pandemic. They were told by police that he was last seen at St. William Catholic Church in Round Rock. 

Round Rock Police said the church made a welfare concern call for a man in the area and officers met with him, but he wouldn’t identify himself and left. The department added that, days later, they learned it was Timothy. 

Round Rock Police officials said they believe Timothy is voluntarily missing. 

“We believe he is voluntarily missing based on our officers’ interaction with him — in which it was determined he was not in danger, was not a danger to others, was not committing a crime — and based on the subsequent investigation,” said Nicholas Olivier, public information specialist with the Round Rock Police Department. “We do not know his current whereabouts or status. Round Rock was one location in which he was spotted, but we have no indication he is still in Round Rock.”

Olivier said there are many factors that go into missing persons investigations including:

  • Is the person a minor or adult? 
  • Does the person have mental or physical impairments that could put them in danger? 
  • Is the person suicidal or a threat to others?
  • And has the person committed a crime?
Timothy Perez was last seen in the Round Rock area on March 5th. (Courtesy: Robert & Sandra Perez)

He also provided a link from Wikiversity which explained that, “a voluntary missing person, or someone who intentionally goes missing, is an individual who decides to leave, without informing family, loved ones or close affiliates of their whereabouts.” 

Timothy’s family adamantly said that’s not the case with him. 

“He’s somewhere where he doesn’t know where he is,” Sandra said. ” I just hope and pray that he’s okay. That’s my prayer, that he is okay. And we’re not ignoring stuff that we could be researching.”

Olivier said these types of cases, where they determine that someone is voluntarily missing, are rare.

He explained that they have received information that Timothy’s cell phone may have been in Conroe after officers connected with him at the church. 

His parents said they want police to investigate his cell phone records. 

Olivier said detectives have gone above and beyond to utilize all resources legally-allowable.

‘Dangerous’ loophole

Missing persons experts fear the term “voluntarily missing” is creating a dangerous loophole. 

“In certain cases, the term voluntarily missing can be very dangerous,” said Todd Matthew, Former Director of Case Management & Communications for NamUs. “They might not know what’s happening to them. There’s cases where people have overdosed or just died completely of an accident, you know, struggling to find their way, getting lost in the woods even, drowning. There are so many things that can happen to a vulnerable person.”

Matthews worked with NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, for more than a decade and helped craft laws mandating the use of the national database to solve cases. 

In Texas, a new law requires law enforcement agencies, justices of the peace and medical examiners to use NamUs. 

The law says the agencies must enter forensic details into the database no later than 60 days after getting a missing persons report. 

Round Rock Police couldn’t confirm if the reason they didn’t enter Timothy into NamUs was because they considered him a voluntarily missing person.

Timothy Perez was visiting his brother when his family said he disappeared in March. (Courtesy: Robert & Sandra Perez)

NamUs does not track or classify cases as “voluntarily missing,” a spokesperson said, adding that all missing person cases submitted to NamUs are verified to be missing with law enforcement prior to publishing. 

Plea for help

Since the state law went into effect, there’s been a near-80% increase in Texas cases entered into the database. 

State Rep. Lacey Hull worked closely with the families to get the law passed last session. She’s already working on gaps in the law and will be looking to file additional legislation this upcoming session. 

She is aware of Timothy’s case. 

His family, not police, entered details about him into the database last month. 

“He’s never done this before, and I don’t see him doing this,” Robert said. 

Timothy’s mother added, “This is very out of character.”

The family is working with Texas EquuSearch and hired a private investigator to help with the investigation. 

If you’ve seen Timothy call 512-844-7933 or EquuSearch at 281-309-9500.