Episode 067: Jackson “Brent” Garcia

February 6, 2023

When a young man vanishes the day after Christmas, his family is desperate for answers. Where is Brent Garcia?

Episode Media
Jackson “Brent” Garcia
Brent Garcia (Dateline / NBC)
Walking distance from Brent’s last known location on Ithaca Drive to the Family Dollar where search dogs tracked his scent (Google Maps)
Sumter’s Missing Persons Memorial (Dateline / NBC)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a missing persons case from South Carolina, a young man who vanished seemingly into thin air, and a family that is desperate for answers. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

In December of 2020, 18-year-old Jackson “Brent” Garcia was living in Sumter County, South Carolina, working at Little Caesars Pizza and dreaming of one day becoming a veterinarian. According to Brent’s family, he was funny and kind, and was always looking out for others. His grandmother Jean told Dateline, “He loved his family. He loved doing stuff for the homeless. He loved animals. And to be honest with you, I’ve never heard anything bad about him. His friends said that he was always right there.” His sister Maddie agreed. “He would give you the shirt off his back in the pouring rain just to make sure you were okay!”

Brent and his family were close, and they were looking forward to spending the holidays together. On Christmas morning, Brent got up early and helped his mom, Angel, in the kitchen. Soon, other family members trickled in, and they spent a peaceful morning eating breakfast and opening gifts. It was a typical family Christmas, and looking back, Angel didn’t see anything unusual in her son’s behavior. He seemed happy, content.

After all the presents were opened and all the food was eaten, Brent left to go hang out with his cousin and play video games. He was planning to stay the night with his grandmother Jean, but he ended up just sleeping over at his cousin’s house instead. It wouldn’t be until later the next day that Jean heard from her grandson at all.

Around 5:30pm on Saturday, December 26th, Jean called Brent to check in. He told her that he was still at his cousin’s house but that he was leaving soon. “I said, ‘Are you coming home?’ and he said, ‘Yes, Nanny. I’ll see you in a little bit.’”

But Brent didn’t show up at Jean’s house that night, and she was getting worried. It wasn’t like him to not let her know if his plans had changed. She tried to call him again, but his phone just rang and rang. “It’s unusual, very unusual. He kept in touch with me 24/7. He never left anywhere that he didn’t tell me where he was going.”

Eventually, Brent’s family managed to get a hold of his cousin. But what he told them only made them more concerned.

According to the cousin, he and Brent had been hanging out at his house on Ithaca Drive all day, playing video games together. Around 7:00 that evening, they went outside with the dog, but it was really cold, so the cousin took the dog back inside. However, he said that Brent didn’t come back in with them.

Brent’s family was confused, but the cousin didn’t have any more information to give them. Apparently, he hadn’t seen Brent actually walk away from the house, but he also didn’t seem that concerned about the fact that his cousin had seemingly vanished, leaving his cell phone behind, and that no one had seen him in hours.

But Jean and Angel were very concerned. Brent never went anywhere without his phone, and he wasn’t the type to just leave without telling anyone. Even if someone had come to pick him up, he would have mentioned it to his cousin and gone back into the house to get his cell phone.

His family considered the possibility that Brent had left on foot. Brent often liked to walk to clear his head, but the weather that night had been very cold, and Brent had only been wearing sweatpants and a jacket – not nearly enough layers to protect him against below-freezing temperatures. If Brent had just walked away, how far could he have gotten?

After calling around to all of Brent’s friends and family members, Angel knew that something bad had happened to her son. “As I was driving to work that Monday morning, I just had this overwhelming feeling that, you know, this has been too long.” She contacted the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office and reported Brent missing.

Some context here could be helpful in the search for Brent. Located east of the state capital of Columbia, Sumter is a rural county with a diverse population of just over 105,000 people. Sumter is also home to Shaw Air Force Base, and it’s known for its industrial and agricultural contributions to the state economy. But Sumter County also has a high crime rate for its small population, consistently ranking higher than the national average for violent crimes. The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office regularly reports drug busts in the area, and there are several active gangs operating in the county; drug- and gang-related violence often appear in the local news.

Within this context, investigators began the search for Brent Garcia. Had he been the victim of a violent crime? They interviewed those closest to Brent and tried to retrace his steps on December 26th. Based on the information they had, it didn’t seem on the surface like Brent had met with foul play, but it was very unusual that he had been out of contact for so long, and the fact that he was without his anxiety medication added to the sense of urgency. Ground and aerial searches were conducted in the area near his cousin’s house on Ithaca Drive as well as some of the places Brent was known to frequent in Sumter County, such as Cherryvale and Route 15 South.

Investigators also retrieved Brent’s cell phone from his cousin’s house and sent it for processing. Angel told Dateline that she knows they were able to retrieve data from the phone, but she doesn’t know what exactly they found. Law enforcement has never released that information to the public.

Of course, Brent’s family wasn’t going to let law enforcement do all the work. They organized community searches and created a Facebook group dedicated to finding Brent. They also reached out to the Black River Search and Rescue organization from the nearby town of Camden, and they brought out a team of search dogs – bloodhounds who are trained in detecting human scent trails. According to Angel, the dogs were able to track Brent’s scent from Ithaca Drive to the Family Dollar on Route 15 South.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though the Family Dollar had any security cameras that could have captured Brent on video, and it’s unclear whether investigators pulled surveillance footage from any other businesses in the area. But the strangest part in my opinion is that the Family Dollar is five miles away from Ithaca Drive – it would have taken Brent an hour and a half to walk that distance in the dark and cold. And why would he have done that without his cell phone? If he wanted to go somewhere, he could have easily called someone to pick him up from his cousin’s house rather than brave the elements on his own.

In the days following the bloodhound search, several people reported seeing Brent in neighboring Kershaw County, specifically around the Wal-Mart in Camden, but none of those sightings were ever confirmed, and there were no other sightings reported after December 31st.

Months passed, and there was still no trace of Brent. In June of 2021, six months after he disappeared, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to Brent’s location, funded by the sheriff’s office, Crime Stoppers, and the family. But even the large reward didn’t generate new information, and investigators were back at square one, interviewing and re-interviewing everyone connected to the case.

Brent’s family was desperate for answers. His father Leo told WIS, “Somebody knows something… We need help. Anyone out there, when you see this, please bring my boy home.” Angel said, “We have done ground searches. The police department has put the plane in the air. We’ve had people searching by boat. Somebody has to know something.”

In the years since Brent disappeared, his family members have devoted themselves to keeping his story alive. In September of 2021, the community held a vigil in Brent’s honor during which a bench at the Sumter animal shelter was dedicated in his name. At the event, Angel said, “Our prayer is that maybe someone will take a seat on this bench and make a difference like Brent wanted to. Brent’s desire to help animals could always be found amongst the homeless community in our area. He was always visiting with the people to check on them, but more importantly, the animals. He always brought them treats. His love was genuine.”

In April of 2022, on Brent’s 20th birthday, the family organized a search, inviting members of the Sumter community and surrounding counties to join in. More than 50 people gathered together to search the town for signs of Brent.

Brent’s family has also been active in searching for other missing people in Sumter County. Under the name “Brent’s Army”, they have worked hard to shine a light on the 20 open missing persons cases in Sumter. They have organized multiple community events and even erected a monument by the county library – three benches surrounding a tall lamp post to light the way home.

On the two-year anniversary of Brent’s disappearance, the community gathered at the monument to light candles and release lanterns. For Brent’s family, it was a beautiful reminder that he has not been forgotten. Angel said, “I hope wherever he is today, he can see it and feel it now, because everything we do is because of him and for him. We won’t stop… Even on days where I’m weakest, I have Brent’s Army that holds me up. We will continue to look for answers day and night and there’s nothing that we will not do.”

Jackson “Brent” Garcia was last seen on Ithaca Drive in Sumter County on December 26, 2020. At the time of his disappearance, he is believed to have been wearing light gray sweatpants, black and white sneakers, and a dark-colored jacket. He is 5’11” with brown hair and hazel eyes. If you have any information about Brent’s disappearance or his current location, please contact the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office at 803-436-2000 or contact Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. And please share Brent’s story – his family is waiting for him to come home.