Air Force intensifies search for missing airman

An Air Force captain who disappeared before Christmas was spotted in Georgia this week just as his status went from “missing” to “deserter.” The Air Force has ramped up a multi-state search for Capt. Robby Williams III, whom family members describe as the unlikeliest of deserters.

Williams was last seen Tuesday night, driving his black 2013 Jeep Wrangler in Waco, Ga., about 50 miles west of Atlanta on I-20. Previous sightings put Williams at hotels and motels in several cities in South Carolina, Tennessee and his home state of North Carolina. In some instances, authorities said, he may have used the alias, “Robby Lawton.”

The trouble started Dec. 23, when Williams didn’t show up for work at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, SC. At that point, he was considered, “not on duty” a status that changed the longer he stayed away.

“We don’t have the foggiest idea why he left,” said Linda Card, a spokesperson for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. “As far as we know, he is still moving, which is what is causing problems for us.”

Card said local and national law enforcement agencies have joined military investigators in the search, “because he is no longer on base and is crossing state lines.”

Card did not give any indication that Williams was armed or dangerous, although at Air Force report on the case said he has been purchasing large amounts of alcohol at each stop.

“We just want to find him. Our biggest fear, if we don’t find him and he has mental problems or is suffering from depression, is that he would commit suicide,” Card said. “And on the flip side, we don’t want him to be a victim of foul play either. We know he is alive and moving as of Jan. 7. We want to stop him before he gets hurt.”

Williams’ mother, Lisa Biggs-Williams, would not comment when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reached her at her home in Charlotte. But in an interview with Q City Metro, a black newspaper in Charlotte, family members said they were baffled by his disappearance.

His father, Robby Williams Jr., and his sister Virginia Williams told the paper that it was out of character for Williams to vanish. They described him as a “straight arrow,” who had grown up dreaming of becoming an Air Force pilot or astronaut. His grandfather served in the Navy and went on to work at Lockheed.

Family members told Q City Metro that Williams joined the Jr. ROTC at East Mecklenburg High School, where he graduated in 2002. They said he received a scholarship and earned an aerospace degree from Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University.

Card said once Williams is captured, military officials will determine his fate. She would not speculate on his sentence, adding that he would be afforded due process.

“All of that will be decided later. Once he is caught, he will be turned over to the authorities at the base he came from and the lawyers will decide if he had a good reason or not to leave,” said Card. She said he could face a court martial or a non-judicial punishment. “But until he is caught and we find out why he left, we won’t know.”

Card is asking anyone who spots Williams to contact local authorities or the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at 571-305-8484, or to text 'AFOSI' and their tip to 274637 (CRIMES); or submit a tip online.