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Family: Once-missing Georgia Tech student was on 'moving freight train' prior to disappearance

In the days after Georgia Tech student James Hubert was found injured on a set of northeast Atlanta train tracks, his mother took to Facebook to announce he had been "jumped, beaten up, robbed and left for dead."

Hubert himself told loved ones that he was "jumped by several guys," according to a newly released Atlanta police incident report.

But Wednesday, the 24-year-old's family conceded that was not the case -- and that he was "aboard a moving freight train" prior to his more than two-day disappearance.

“We don’t have the full story yet about Jimmy’s activities and whereabouts during the 55 hours that he was missing," the family said in an emailed statement. "It appears that he somehow got aboard a moving freight train. How he did this is unclear. What happened between his time on the train and the time he was found remains a mystery.

"Did he do something reckless? It appears that he did. Was there a robbery? Police are still investigating that."

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Hubert, an aerospace engineering major and vice president of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, was reported missing after he didn't return home from an Oct. 16 sorority formal at the Puritan Mill in northwest Atlanta. On Oct. 19, friends using the "Find My iPhone" app found him on the railroad tracks at DeKalb and Arizona avenues, some nine miles away near the northeast Atlanta neighborhood of Kirkwood.

In the days after Hubert was found, Atlanta police officials said there was no evidence of foul play and investigators were waiting to speak with Hubert. Authorities have otherwise said little about the case, but an incident report released Wednesday provided additional insight into the events before and after Hubert's disappearance.

It does not, however, mention Hubert having been on a moving freight train.

According to the report:

-- The phone friends tracked to find Hubert was not his, but belonged to his date at the aforementioned formal. A female friend of Hubert contacted police at about 10 p.m. on Oct. 17, saying he hadn't been seen since about 11 p.m. the night before, when he "seemed sad" and left the formal with the other young woman's phone.

At about 1 a.m., the woman's phone was tracked to a stretch of DeKalb Avenue near the Edgewood neighborhood.

-- At about 8:30 a.m. on Oct. 19, friends called police to report Hubert had instead been found several miles further east on DeKalb Avenue, near Arizona Avenue. The friends told police they had searched an abandoned building and parking lot in the area the previous night, but had determined it was too dark to go onto the tracks. They returned the next morning.

"The area where Mr. Hubert was found was approximately one hundred yards away from the city street and sidewalk," the report said. "There was a thick layer of brush and kudzoo before the train tracks. There were two CSX [railroad] tracks and then a ditch. The ditch separated the fence for the MARTA track and the two CSX tracks. Mr. Hubert was in the ditch with coats piled on top of him."

-- Hubert -- who was described as "dehydrated and very cold" at the scene -- later told his family he was attacked.

"He stated to his family when he was at the hospital that he was jumped by several guys," the report said. "He stated they robbed him. He was not able to give a full account of what happened."

Atlanta police spokeswoman Officer Kim Jones said Wednesday afternoon she could not comment on Hubert's family's statements about him being on a moving train. She also declined to comment on a possible robbery while Hubert was lying on the tracks.

It was unclear how Hubert -- who was last seen in full suit and bowtie -- became  covered in multiple coats.

CSX, the railroad that owns the tracks where Hubert was found, has also released few details about the case.

"CSX is aware of this pedestrian incident and is cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation," spokeswoman Kristin Seay said in an email Tuesday. "The safety of the public and our employees is CSX's first priority. Railroad property is private property and walking or riding near the railroad tracks is illegal and extremely dangerous. We urge the public to stay far away from railroad property for their own safety."

Asked Wednesday if people riding on moving trains was a common problem, or if criminal charges were being considered against Hubert, Seay re-sent the final two lines of her previous statement.

Hubert's family, meanwhile, said they remain grateful that he is alive.  Hubert's mother previously described his injuries as "left-side paralysis," blood on the brain, broken ribs, a broken scapula, a punctured lung and four broken vertebrae.

He had successful surgery on the latter last week.

"To our family, the story hasn’t changed: Jimmy is alive today because of a great group of friends who were committed to finding him. We will forever be grateful for that," the family's statement said. "Our priority is to focus on Jimmy’s health, and he gets stronger every day. He is also remembering more each day, and we are fully cooperating with the on-going police investigation.”


About the Author

Tyler Estep is a reporter covering Gwinnett County.

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