Missing persons cases become priority for Aiken area law enforcement

Sep. 3—Cierra Belote knew when her father, John Belote, was reported missing it wasn't going to be good.

She said even though the Aiken County Sheriff's Office used all of its resources, she knew her dad wouldn't be found alive.

"The day he went missing and I tried to call him, I already knew," she said. "At that moment my stomach had dropped because I realized that he was gone."

Over the last year, local law enforcement agencies have been investigating several missing persons cases and have used every resource available in order to find the person even with some of the challenges.

The most recent cases involve John Belote, Krystal Anderson and Aiden Conaster. Belote was found dead, his body buried in a shallow grave in Windsor. Conaster was located in Georgia and returned to his family. Krystal Anderson is still missing and a man has been charged with her murder.

Cierra Belote said not hearing from her dad was odd.

She reported her father missing after he had an argument with a male suspect. John Belote's body was found a few weeks later in a shallow grave.

Five people have been arrested and charged in the disappearance and death of John Belote: Donald Britton, Suzanne Boozer, Thomas Guinn, Michael Dwayne Williams and Cody Wooten. Britton, Boozer and Wooten are facing charges for accessory after the fact of murder in the death of John Belote.

Guinn and Williams are facing murder charges in the case.

"I knew it wasn't going to be a good thing," she said. "I just didn't have any hope."

Cases in Aiken

According to national database NamUS.gov, eight people are currently listed as missing in Aiken County. They are Jeremy Grice, 4, missing since Nov. 22, 1985; Sharon Wills, 24, missing since July 10, 1987; Donna Wright, 17, missing since June 28, 1989; Tiwana Cheatham, 8, missing since Aug. 11, 1989; Mary Dixon, 86, missing since March 21, 2002; Lisa Shuttleworth, 34, missing since Sept. 4, 2003; Jean Smith, 70, missing since July 13, 2015; and Chandler Smith, missing since Oct. 22, 2020.

Aiken County Department of Public Safety investigator Jason Griffin said there are steps when dealing with missing persons cases.

Griffin said police often receive a call from the person who is making the report before a public safety officer meets with them.

Griffin said the responding officer will get all the basic information on the person who is missing, which will include name, age, physical description, last known location and a phone number in addition to risk factors.

Griffin said the most common risk factors are mental capacity, like whether the person care for themself; age (the very young and old); suicidal tendencies; or if leaving is something they normally don't do.

"We give full attention to all them," Griffin said, but if the missing person is considered at risk, then priority is put on those cases.

Griffin said missing persons cases are documented before the information is passed on to an investigator, who will handle the case.

Griffin said for a missing person case one investigator is assigned , but with Conatser it was all-hands-on-deck because of the nature of the case.

The teen was first was reported missing as a runaway July 13.

"The sense of urgency is more at that time, so we will deploy more resources to that location to start an immediate search so we can locate them," Griffin said.

He said they can call in additional resources, have drones and other agencies to help in a search.

"The urgency is there and we will apply all the resources," Griffin said.

Cierra Belote said when she first made a report on her missing dad, she felt like police didn't care or help that much and waited about a week before she was able to get an investigator on the case.

She said once the investigation started it got better and said investigators pulled in a lot of resources such as an on-foot search for her dad.


Griffin said one challenge with missing person cases is the time frame it takes from the person being reported missing to finally being found.

"The quicker you can notify law enforcement the quicker we can get resources there, that is paramount," he said.

He said searching for a missing person can be hard because investigators don't know what type of terrain they will be searching based on weather conditions.

"The more people you can put looking for someone, the better it is," Griffin said.

Capt. Eric Abdullah with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office said the main goal is to find the person and police aren't investigating a crime at the moment.

"It's not a crime to be missing, but as we are investigating why you're missing to determine why you went missing forcefully, we have a whole different situation," Abdullah said.

Griffin said one challenge is that sometimes a missing person doesn't want to be found.

A silver lining

Griffin said most missing persons cases are resolved quickly.

In the case of Aiden Conaster, police said the teen was found safe at residence in Rabun County, Georgia July 17 and it was because of assistance from the community. Police said the case is under investigation and new details have not been released.

Shortly after the teen went missing, a Facebook page named Bring Aiden Conatser Home was established to help search for the teen.

Police said the case is still active in regards to assistance that would have been provided to Aiden while he was a runaway.

Griffin said community is always the key in helping to solve missing person cases.

"Information from the community is vital, not only on missing persons cases, but helping with any investigation is important," he said.