James Egbert, the 16-year-old college student who disappeared from the campus of Michigan State University a month ago, is "very depressed" and refuses to reveal what happened to him, according to the private detective who found him.
William C. Dear said at a press conference in Dallas yesterday that he conducted negotiations with a group called the Tolkien Society to obtain the boy's release, but he said he was not certain whether Egbert was being held against his will.
Egbert's father, however, said he believed his son was in danger. "To the best of my knowledge, he was not with friends," he told the press conference, adding, "there are some things that perhaps are best unsaid."
Egbert, described as a student genius, disappeared from his dormiory on Aug. 15, leaving behind an apparent suicide note and a clue in code, tacked up on his bulletin board. Speculating that the boy's disappearance was connected with a bizaare version of the game called Dungeons and Dragons, police searched the steam tunnels underneath the campus, but turned up nothing. Egbert's parents then hired Dear's firm.
Dear said that when he picked Egbert up on Thursday, at an undisclosed location, he was "in good shape physically, except for two bruises, one under his chin and one on his elbow. They were apparently several days old and looked like they were healing up pretty well. "But emotionally he was not in good shape," Dear said.
Dear flew the boy back to Dallas, where the detective has his headquarters, and it was there that Egbert was reunited with his parents at 3 a.m. yesterday.
"This is the most bizarre case I have ever been involved in," Dear said. "I don't know when, if ever, the veil of secrecy will be lifted on this case. Perhaps, for the good of the boy, it shouldn't ever be. The boy has undergone a tremendous ordeal."
Dear said he considers the case closed.
The big break in the case came when Dear was contacted earlier this week by a woman who said, "The pressure is on now. We don't want bodily harm to come to him."
Through the woman, Dear arranged to meet late Tuesday night with a man from the Tolkien Society. (The characters in Dungeons and Dragons are taken from J.R.R. Tolkien's books.) The group demanded that Dear agree, in an affidavit or on tape, not to seek prosecution of the Tolkien group or the woman who acted as go-between.
At about 2 a.m. Thursday morning, Dear said he was called by the boy himself. The boy said he was all right, and Dear asked him where he was and whether he needed help.
The boy began to cry, then Dear heard a voice in the background saying, "Cool it, kid. Cool it." The boy hung up, apparently to make sure the call could not be traced. But he called back twice more, and each time broke into tears.
Dear said the young Egbert was now under a doctor's care and was receiving medication.
Ferman Badgley, captain of the Michigan State University Police, said he was "glad to see the boy returned to his family, but as far as the police are concerned, the case is not closed until we are satisfied that there has been no foul play, that no crime has been committed. That possibility still exists. We just don't know what happened."