Community, sheriff, former classmates honor Thomas Bryson - FOX Carolina 21

Community, sheriff, former classmates honor Thomas Bryson

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Henderson County Public Schools mourns death of one-time missing man, Thomas Bryson. (Courtesy: Bryson family) Henderson County Public Schools mourns death of one-time missing man, Thomas Bryson. (Courtesy: Bryson family)

The search for suspected burglar, now accused killer Philip Stroupe II started with a manhunt, but his arrest still leaves others in search of answers.

Investigators say his crime spree spanned through Transylvania, Buncombe, McDowell, and Henderson counties.

"Personally, and as an entire district we've been following this story very closely," Molly McGowan Gorsuch said.

She's the public information officer for Henderson County Public Schools.

"We're just sad that the outcome was what it was," she said.

Investigators say while on the run, Stroupe kidnapped Thomas Bryson in Henderson County and stole his truck. 

Investigators say they later saw him in McDowell County driving Bryson's truck, but without Bryson.

"My prayers and all of our prayers and thoughts have been going out to the family," McGowan Gorsuch said.

She says the Bryson family is one that is respected and loved in the community. Bryson's son, Joey Bryson, is the boy's head basketball coach at West Henderson High School, and Joey Bryson's wife coaches the girl's team.

"In West Henderson High, it's a tight-knit group and they call it the Falcon family and they are all mourning with the Brysons," McGowan Gorsuch said.

Investigators and family offered a reward for anyone who could find Bryson, but it would be an emergency management worker, who also happened to be a family member, who would do it. That person found Bryson's body in a corn field in Arden. 

"The entire district was touched by the tragic loss of Mr. Bryson," McGowan Gorsuch said.

After investigators arrested Philip Stroupe II, they made more of them. Investigators arrested his father, Philip Stroupe I, and charged him with accessory after the fact. Investigators say they also found out Philip Stroupe II visited a home in Buncombe County, so they arrested Frederick Badgero, Jr. and Jennifer and Larry Hawkins.

"Our hopes and our prayers for comfort and peace continue to go out to the family right now," McGowan Goursuch said.

Now, the Bryson family and a community mourns.

A GoFundMe has been set up by the class of 1991 at West Henderson High School to construct a memorial in honor of Bryson. Click here to contribute.

The funds will be used to erect a monument statue to memorialize his legacy as a man of great faith, high integrity, outstanding character, respect for nature, and as a loving and devoted husband and father. Let us all put our hearts and minds with the Bryson family and Mills River community as they journey through this difficult time.  May God bless all the lives this wonderful man touched.

A candlelight vigil was also planned in Bryson's memory. It took place Wednesday at 8:45 p.m. beginning on South Mills River Road and ending at Glenn Bridge Road.

"Everyone is asked to bring a candle or light and let our lights shine for 15 minutes for Tommy Bryson and his family," the Facebook event said.

Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald released the following statement regarding Bryson:

As I take a moment to reflect upon all that has taken place this past week in Henderson County, I realize what an emotional roller coaster our community has endured. I am both angered and saddened by the senseless loss of a beloved husband, father, grandfather, and in the words of so many others "a gentle friend" and a "Godly man". To realize that his life was stolen at the whim of a callous career criminal that saw him only as a means to an end; left us all angry and shaken. I was deeply gratified by the zeal and the compassion of a community of friends and good citizens who came out to offer their help in search efforts and who showered a distraught family with prayer and best wishes. I was frustrated by the pace at which usable information was being developed, although countless law enforcement agencies were working around the clock at a frantic pace to develop leads. My fellow Sheriffs across North Carolina were offering manpower and other resources, making themselves available "anytime, day or night". I was hopeful, as we developed leads and sightings of the vehicle in order to direct searchers into possible areas, to search and hopefully find Mr. Bryson alive. Frustration and disappointment returned at the end of each unfruitful effort.

It has been said that in the darkest hours, God's light shines the brightest. In three specific areas I was greatly inspired by the light that I saw and moved to pen this very message.

First of all, I believe that we were all touched by the power of faith in God demonstrated collectively by the family of Mr. Bryson. This faith was also demonstrated by his close friends, the community of Mills River, across Henderson County and Western NC. Prayers for strength, for courage, for peace, for clues, for the safety of first responders and law enforcement officers were answered greatly, although the outcome of the search was not what we would have wanted.

As they always do, our first responders, community volunteers, churches and businesses stepped up to selflessly and tirelessly answer the call in a spirit of unity and compassion. Praying together for wisdom, crying out for peace for a wounded family, unified by compassion and duty, everyone brought all that they had. I believe our faith is at the core of what makes us a unique community and has helped to maintain and preserve the quality of life that we still enjoy today in our region of this great nation. With that in mind, let us not grow quickly cold and forget the power of that faith that God has chosen to reveal to us all in these past desperate days. It will certainly be required of us again.

Finally, I must also recognize the efforts of all law enforcement agencies and all of the sworn and nonsworn staff who willingly and stoically never faltered, never slowed and never gave up hope. Together we prayed, missed meals and sleep, put raw emotions and fatigue on hold and pressed forward with dogged determination. Certainly we felt compelled to catch and stop a criminal; but first and foremost, it was always about Tommy and his family. Nothing motivated "our family in blue" more deeply than to bring resolution and closure to an indescribably distraught family.

The vigil held along Highway 280 on Wednesday evening was a tangible and moving display of all these individuals; law enforcement, first responders, family, friends and community coming together to honor a man's life here on earth and celebrate his homecoming.

May God bless you all.

Sheriff Charles McDonald

Related coverage: Deputies: Manhunt suspect charged with first degree murder; DA seeking death penalty

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