Kerry Braxton-Andrew was running late as he hustled across Mexico City’s Roma district. His brother’s flight was scheduled to land at 4 p.m. on Oct. 30. He and Patrick were planning to meet at their hotel an hour later. But Kerry had gotten caught up wandering the streets of the busy capital, delaying the rendezvous. However, when he tapped out text messages to Patrick, he didn’t get a reply.
“I didn’t want to think the worst, obviously,” Kerry told The Washington Post.
Kerry could initially explain away the radio silence. Patrick had been in Mexico for a couple of days, hiking near the country’s Copper Canyon, a series of scenic vistas slicing through the Chihuahua state in the country’s northwest. Now Kerry was linking up with his brother for the journey’s second leg. Together, the two men from Davidson, N.C., were planning to take in the country’s Day of the Dead festivities. Kerry already had an idea how the trip would play out: Patrick, armed with his fluent Spanish and the freewheeling spirit that had propelled him on travels throughout Central America, would get wrapped up in conversations with locals. Kerry would wander off with his camera.
But when Kerry stepped into Hotel Milan around 6:30 p.m., Patrick was not in the lobby. After scaling the language barrier at the front desk, Kerry learned his older brother also had not yet checked in. When Kerry got to his room, he Googled Patrick’s flight. It had landed on time — it was even early. So where was Patrick?
“I then texted my parents to see if they had heard from Patrick,” Kerry explained. “They said no.”
Since Oct. 30, Patrick’s family has been struggling to piece together the whereabouts of the 34-year-old private school teacher. Patrick’s mother, father, brother and sister-in-law are in Mexico City, shuttling between phone calls and meetings with Mexican and U.S. officials. So far, the family has been able to trace Patrick’s last movements to Urique, a tiny Chihuahua village at the bottom of the canyon in a remote section of a country beset by cartel violence. There, the trail vanishes.
“We definitely believe he’s out there somewhere, and if we can find him, we can get him home safely,” Patrick’s mother, Jean Braxton, told The Post. But from what clues the missing man left behind, the family believes he did not get lost trekking in the wilderness.
“He didn’t wander miles and miles from town,” Kerry said. “He’s a missing person, not a missing hiker.”
Patrick’s love affair with Spanish and Central America was an ironic development. As a student growing up in Davidson, where his father was a cross-country and track coach at Davidson College, Patrick struggled to master the foreign tongue. “He hated the language. He felt he had no aptitude for it,” his mother explained. It wasn’t until the family took a trip to Costa Rica in 2007 that Patrick became enthralled with the language he had struggled to master in classrooms in the states.
After his graduation from Davidson College, Patrick set off on a 13-month swing through Central America, including Guatemala. “He developed a real love for the culture, and his Spanish became really good,” his mother said. He eventually became a Spanish teacher at a private school in North Carolina. His trips to Mexico and Central America continued.
“Any time Patrick is going to have time off, he schedules a trip somewhere,” said Kathleen Braxton-Andrew, his sister-in-law. “He’s not someone who takes spring break to sit at home and watch Netflix.”
Patrick’s camera was always with him on his trips, his father, Gary Andrew, said. “He has a really good eye,” Andrew explained. “Particularly for interesting buildings and bright colors, the kind you find in Central America.”
The Copper Canyon checked the right boxes for Patrick — picturesque and remote. The deep ridges in the Sierra Tarahumara range contain many incredible photo opportunities, thanks to the valley’s green walls (hence the name). It is also a landmark not included in many travelers' itineraries.
“The way he tried to sell it to me was that it was way bigger than the Grand Canyon but not visited by as many people,” explained Kerry, who couldn’t get the time off work to join Patrick on the first leg of his journey. “He liked to go to places where there’s not going to be a lot of tourists. He preferred to go to small towns so he could really get to know the people.”
After Patrick failed to arrive in Mexico City as planned on Oct. 30, the family was able to trace his steps around Copper Canyon. Patrick left North Carolina for Mexico on Oct. 24, landing in Chihuahua. The next day, he caught the Copper Canyon train and spent the night near the top of the valley.
On Oct. 26, Patrick posted photos to social media as he was taking a bus down into the Copper Canyon. The family learned he was then staying in a hotel in Urique, the small town on the valley floor. Cellphone reception and Internet service in the town were spotty, but Patrick apparently hung out in the town’s only Internet cafe, where he shot off some text messages to friends in the United States. They were his last communications.
The family learned that he was last seen leaving his Urique hotel around 4 p.m. on Oct. 28. Earlier in the day, it appeared Patrick had gone on a hike. But his family does not believe he set out that afternoon for a trek based on the belongings discovered in his room by hotel employees after Patrick was reported missing. His work computer, debit card and shoes were all left behind. His camera was also at the hotel.
“He barely had anything on him,” Kerry said, guessing his brother probably left the hotel with his cellphone, sandals and small change. “And he would not be going on a hike without his camera.”
Since Patrick’s disappearance, the family has been in Mexico City. They have kept up a constant dialogue with officials on the ground in Chihuahua, including the governor and the attorney general.
Last week, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) tweeted that his office was aware of the situation. “My staff is actively working w/ the @StateDept, and Mexican law enforcement are conducting an extensive search,” he wrote. "Please keep Patrick, his family & the communities of Mooresville & Davidson in your prayers.”
“They’ve been great,” Patrick’s mother said. But on the advice of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, the family has not yet visited the remote town where Patrick disappeared. Back in North Carolina, a number of friends and supporters have helped man a Facebook page spreading information on the search.
“Patrick was an honest and sincere and good guy,” his mother said. “He was not just some random guy who wandered down here looking for trouble.”
More from Morning Mix: