BOONE, NC — At around 10:30 A.M. on April 21, 2016, active and popular 19-year-old college student James “Martin” Roberts told roommates he was headed for the Appalachian State University library.
After a friendly bus stop conversation with his cousin, who also attends ASU, Martin walked off — and no one has seen or heard from him since.
A high school soccer star with a wide circle of friends and good grades, Martin Roberts excelled upon arriving at Appalachian State University and joining a fraternity in fall 2014.
Even though his parents had divorced, Martin also had a tight relationship with his family, who still live about two hours away in Kernersville, North Carolina.
John Roberts, Martin’s father, always believed his son kept no serious secrets from him. All that changed after Martin vanished.
On the very first day of his sophomore year in 2015, Martin, who was still just 18, attended a fraternity party and got drunk. His subsequent attempt to drive back to his on-campus residence led to an arrest for DWI — a fact that Martin hid from his family.
Apparently, Martin told his parents he’d been walking home and got stopped for being drunk and disorderly. In fact, he called his on-and-off girlfriend Kayla Shelton from the police station and spent the night in lock-up, sleeping it off.
Kayla, who lived 100 miles away, drove through the night to meet Martin. By the time she arrived, he had already been cut loose, and he seemed belligerent.Upset and apparently embarrassed over Kayla spending time and effort to help him, the sometimes couple exchanged heated words and called it off forever. So in one fell swoop, Martin Roberts lost his driver’s license and his first serious romantic relationship — setbacks that can be especially devastating to teenagers.
After wrapping up at Appalachian State University for the holidays, Martin told his parents he’d like to take a semester off to get away from fraternity life and refocus himself. He did. The following fall, Martin returned to school and all seemed back to normal — but it wasn’t.
Although Martin said he’d gone back to ASU, he actually instead enrolled in a nearby community college. He maintained his frat membership and social life on the bigger school’s campus while taking classes that were mostly online.
Still, Martin was earning good grades and all appeared fine until spring 2016 when, midway through the semester, he just stopped showing up on campus or even logging in to get his assignments. Around the same time, Martin very abruptly dropped out of other internet communities in which he’d been an active member.
In fact, a couple of Martin’s fraternity brothers first suspected something was up when he abruptly went silent during a chat they were having online. They dropped by Martin’s off-campus apartment.
A roommate said Martin wasn’t around, and then peeked inside his friend’s bedroom. He saw that Martin had left behind his laptop, cell phone, and even his wallet, as well as a note out in a plain sight. The roommate then immediately called the authorities.
The note reportedly contained a “farewell” of sorts from Martin. Apparently it is so intense and personal that the Roberts family has shared only parts of it with the public. Right after leaving this message behind, Martin took off.
Martin’s tirelessly searching dad, John Roberts, said of the note:
“It was a note that Martin left stating that he was leaving. He was disappointed in himself. But it didn’t really say where he was going or what he was doing.”
Detective Kevin Wilson of the Boone Police Department added that the note also declared:
“To the folks that I won’t see, my family’s given me a lot of opportunities that I’ve not taken advantage of.”
Apparently, Martin felt like a failure and a burden. The note reportedly makes no mention of self-harm — but it also doesn’t outwardly state Martin had no intentions of harming himself, either.
According to Lieutenant Chris Hatton of the Boone Police Department:
“It seems to me that Martin was very much trying to keep up the façade that everything was going great for him. In his note, he alluded to being tired of that, tired of his life not living up to expectations.”
Police, friends, and family members instantly flew into action trying to find Martin. Two years later, he remains gone without a trace.
James Martin Roberts was last seen wearing a black, short sleeve, Appalachian State windbreaker, khaki shorts, gray New Balance shoes, and a white golf visor hat. He is 5-foot-10 and weighs 145 pounds.
Martin sports a tattoo on his ribcage quoting the song “Zion Train” by Bob Marley. It reads: “Don’t gain the world, but lose your soul/ Wisdom is better than silver or gold.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the Boone Police Department at (828) 268-6900 or High Country Crime Stoppers at (828) 268-6959 or (828) 737-0125.
If you are in search of a missing person, make sure to enter their information into the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
For more on James Martin Roberts, watch the “Breaking Away” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Disappeared on ID GO now!
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Main photo: James Martin Roberts missing poster [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]