On the same day he was reported absent from his post at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Michael Alexander Brown checked into a campground about four hours away in Clarendon County, South Carolina.
The owner of Elliott’s Landing, a lakeside campground surrounded by hiking trails, could tell from the young man’s clean-cut hair and demeanor that he was military — a not uncommon sight for the recreation destination that is within easy driving distance of an Air Force base and other facilities.
“He seemed like a nice person when he came in,” said Alice Weathersbee, whose family runs Elliott’s Landing.
“Just a normal guy coming to camp. Nothing really stood out about him.”
Brown, who grew up in Franklin County, is now the focus of an extensive, multi-agency search being led by the U.S. Marshals Service.
The 22-year-old is accused of second-degree murder in the Nov. 9 shooting death of Rodney Wilfred Brown.
Rodney Brown, who was shot at his home in Hardy, has been described by authorities as the boyfriend of Michael Brown’s mother.
The search for Michael Brown has taken investigators from Virginia to North Carolina to South Carolina. Local efforts significantly intensified last week when Brown was spotted tapping on the window of his grandmother’s house in Roanoke shortly before 1 a.m. Nov. 14.
In the days since then, teams of federal and local authorities have been popping up at locations across the region and as far away as near Radford.
The U.S. Marshals, who assumed the lead of the search late last week, said authorities have been following up on a wave of tips generated.
Some 250 tips and leads had been received as of this week, officials said. On Tuesday night, federal marshals said Brown could be in the New River Valley area but added there had been no confirmed sightings yet to verify that.
The community is urged to remain alert and continue reporting any possible leads or sightings of suspicious activity.
It’s not clear why Brown, a corporal in the U.S. Marines, made the trip to Elliott’s Landing on Oct. 24. There is no indication he had visited it before, Weathersbee said, and he didn’t seem to know anyone else there.
His time there, first reported by local media in South Carolina, appeared largely uneventful. Neither the campgrounds nor local law enforcement reported any incidents.
Clarendon County Sheriff Tim Baxley said as far as officials can gather Brown stuck close by the campgrounds when he was in the area and whiled away his days.
“We have no reason to believe he had any ties here whatsoever,” Baxley said. “It’s almost like he picked a place and called them to see if they had a vacancy and they did, so he proceeded there.”
The same day of his arrival at Elliott’s Landing, Brown had been scheduled to report for duty at Camp Lejeune, where he’d been stationed since enlisting in July 2016.
His unit, which specializes in engineering and infrastructure work, said he didn’t report and he was formally marked as absent without authorization the following day.
A full picture of Brown’s travels since Oct. 24 hasn’t yet emerged but at some point authorities said he headed back to Franklin County.
He was seen on security footage at a gas station there on Nov. 9. Authorities said he could be driving a black 2008 Lincoln Town Car.
It appears he later returned to South Carolina. Weathersbee said the RV, with an attached trailer, that Brown had been staying in left the campgrounds sometime during the early hours of Nov. 12.
There were signs the departure had been hurried. The management showed a local news crew tread marks left behind on the lot that Brown had been occupying.
The enclosed trailer he had been hauling was found by authorities later that same day abandoned on the side of the road just a few miles away, officials said. It was broken down with a blown tire.
Inside the trailer, investigators found a black 2008 Lincoln Town Car.
One day after the car and trailer were found, staffers at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Roanoke noticed what appeared to be an unoccupied RV left in the church parking lot but decided it seemed harmless, if a bit unusual.
That was on Nov. 13. The next day, amid a massive search for Brown, authorities linked the RV to him and seized it.
Investigators have declined to disclose any details about the contents of the vehicle.
Brown’s mother, who federal court records listed as a witness to the shooting, made a public appeal last week urging Brown to turn himself in safely.
Authorities have emphasized their desire for a peaceful resolution and said Brown can contact any agency to arrange to be brought in.
Friends also pleaded with Brown for a safe surrender and hired defense attorney Deborah Caldwell-Bono to represent him.
Caldwell-Bono said she hopes their message reaches Brown and that he knows he has people who care for him.
She noted there are no signs he has harmed or confronted anyone since the search for him began more than a week ago.
“I think that speaks volumes for the young man,” she said. “I think that’s important to keep in mind.”
Caldwell-Bono reiterated that he can get in contact with her and she stands ready to represent him.
“You have a great support system here,” she said. “We can get you through this.”
“You still have a lot of good to give to this world.”
The public is urged to use caution if Brown is seen. Information can be reported to 911 or to a tipline at 877-WANTED-2.