The possibilities as to where Mike Hearon is are almost too many to fathom.
The one thing that is known is that he is gone, disappeared like one of those people in a witness protection program.
A massive - an expensive - search for Michael Hearon, 51, turned up nothing last week to lead investigators for the Blount County Sheriff’s Office to him. The only things they are left with are an abandoned all-terrain vehicle and a boxcar load of questions.
Hearon, a home builder and, by all accounts, a respected and liked member of the community, was last seen Aug. 23, when he drove his silver Dodge dually pickup truck, pulling a trailer with a mower on it, onto his family’s home place at the end of Bell Branch Road in the Happy Valley community.
He was seen to ride off on his ATV - and that was it.
The vehicle was found on a dirt road that goes into the dense forest a little over a mile from the home. There was no evidence it was wrecked or that Hearon was injured.
No evidence he had become ill in the remote woods.
No evidence he had been accosted by other human beings or an animal
No evidence - just an ATV sitting by itself with the ignition key in the “on” position and gasoline in its tank.
On the seat of his truck were his wallet, cell phone, some cash and Hearon’s keys.
Blount County Sheriff Jim Berrong’s agency spearheaded a massive search that began Aug. 25 when Hearon was reported missing by family members. The search was joined by the Blount County Fire Department, the Blount County Rescue Squad, the National Park Service, Rural/Metro ambulance service and a group of volunteers that numbered at least 50 on any given day.
They searched on foot, on horseback, on ATVs. They used tracking dogs, cadaver dogs, even a helicopter.
They searched in sweltering heat and in summer rain, with the American Red Cross providing food, drink and support for the searchers.
With nothing to show for their efforts, the search was called off Aug. 29.
And Mike Hearon’s name became an adjective followed by the word “mystery.”
The Mike Hearon Mystery.
Berrong said Friday that later in the fall, when much of the foliage has withered and fallen, the search will be begun anew.
Family members maintained a vigil for their lost relative at the ranger station at Abrams Creek Campground all week. Search teams were dispatched into the woods from the Happy Valley Community Center, with law enforcement personnel keeping meticulous records of who went out into the woods and checking off their names when they returned so that no one else would be lost in the effort.
The BCSO Mobile Command Center spent four days in the pull-off parking lot at Look Rock on the Foothills Parkway, serving as a central communications outpost for the search because there is no cell phone service in the remote hollows and folds on the south side of Chilhowee Mountain.
The Mike Hearon Mystery could become one of those stories that have no ending, like the Dennis Martin search of the late 1960s.
Martin was 7 years old when he went missing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Longtime residents of Blount County remember the lengthy, high profile search. To this day, he remains unfound.