(FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.) — The sister of a teenager who disappeared with his friend in 1978 says that now she truly believes that he is dead after his car was found recently at the bottom of a canal.
Harry “Wade” Atchison, 19, and his friend Dana Null, 15, were last seen driving away from his home on the night of Oct. 7, 1978, and the first break in the case in decades came when his car was found on Wednesday.
“When I first got the call, I was kind of stunned, I guess you could say,” Wade’s sister Donna Amaya told ABC News. “Afterwards, in letting the extended family know about it, it finally sunk in.”
The mystery deepened with a lack of evidence, delays in reporting the situation and police protocols that kept Atchison’s parents from filing a missing person’s report since their son was 19 and no longer a minor at the time he vanished.
Both Atchison’s parents and Null’s parents have since died but both have sisters who were notified when the car was discovered by a sanitation worker in the town of Sunrise on Wednesday.
Police have no firm timeline of the hours leading up to the teens’ disappearance but Atchison’s relatives were able to get an understanding of what happened after talking to his friends.
Amaya said that she wasn’t sure if he and Null were dating but the pair definitely knew each other since they both lived in the same mobile home park.
“I don’t know if they met through friends or through schools even though they went to different schools but they lived the same neighborhood,” she said.
On Oct. 7, 1978, Atchison’s parents were in New York visiting Amaya, who is three years older than her brother.
Atchison went to a concert with Null, and, like so much in this case, there are conflicting reports about the show, Amaya said. Many local reports placed the pair at a Foreigner concert but Amaya said that they actually went to a Journey concert, and she knows that because they have the ticket stubs.
From there, Atchison reportedly had friends over to his house for a “get-together” since his parents were out of town, his sister said.
“Wade and Dana got into an argument and my brother jumped into the car to blow off steam and she ended up jumping in the car with him,” Amaya told ABC News.
By the time her parents got back to Florida after a week in New York, they couldn’t get in touch with him and heard what happened the night of the party. When his father went to the police station to file a missing persons’ report, he was turned away because Atchison wasn’t a minor, Amaya recalled.
Null’s parents were able to file a missing person’s report and Atchison was attached to those descriptions, but he never had one of his own, Amaya said, noting that there have been tips about possible sightings in the past but none ever produced valid evidence.
“My mom never gave up hope that Wade was still alive,” she said. “They traveled to Texas because they got word that he was living in Texas but they couldn’t find him. And I went with my dad to the [Florida] Keys after another tip.”
The Broward County Sheriff’s office has sent homicide investigators and members of their dive team back to the canal for another search Friday, after their first search on Thursday produced no evidence of either body.
The sheriff’s spokeswoman, Veda Coleman-Wright, said low visibility contributed to the trouble with the search on Thursday night, and Amaya said that the investigator who spoke to her seemed pessimistic.
“He doesn’t think after 36 years anything would be left today,” Amaya said.
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