In the weeks leading up to her son’s disappearance, Benji Abbey’s biggest concern was keeping him safe from the coronavirus.
Now, she fears the worst.
Anthony “AJ” Haszleton Jr., 16, hasn’t been seen or heard from since leaving his Decatur home April 19.
After being unable to locate him for more than a month, DeKalb County police announced Friday that they suspect foul play in the teen’s disappearance.
“Initially, his disappearance was being investigated as a possible runaway, but evidence (has) led investigators to believe foul play to be involved,” DeKalb police spokeswoman Michaela Vincent said.
At a news conference Friday afternoon outside DeKalb police headquarters, Haszleton’s mother pleaded with the public for any information that could help her find her only son.
“It’s killing all of us inside not knowing where he is,” Abbey told reporters as tears streamed down her face. “We’re scared that he’s in danger or he’s hurt, or even worse — that he’s dead. We don’t know, we don’t have a clue.”
Haszleton’s 17th birthday is June 3 and Abbey said her family plans to celebrate whether her son his home or not “just to keep hope alive.”
According to an incident report, Abbey called police to their home on Cherry Ridge Boulevard on April 23 and told officers she believed her son may be in danger.
She told detectives she last saw him four days earlier, on April 19. That evening, Abbey said she found a girl hiding in her son’s closet. The teen reportedly told the woman she was waiting on AJ to return from an errand, but he never came home.
Haszleton’s mother told police her son had a history of running away, and that she wasn’t concerned until the next day when she received a call from one of his friends saying she believed AJ might be in “grave danger,” according to the report.
The friend, identified only as “Amiah” in the report, told Abbey her son had gone to Greene County with an older gang member to engage in “some sort of criminal activity.”
“Anthony had told Amiah that if he didn't return by 3 p.m. that evening something bad had happened to him,” the report said.
Haszleton and the older person claimed to be affiliated with the Bloods on their Instagram accounts, according to the police report. At the time, Haszleton was entered into the missing persons database as a “runaway,” authorities said.
In the days and weeks leading up to AJ’s disappearance, Abbey said her biggest worry was protecting him during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was more concerned about the coronavirus because he has asthma,” she said. “That was my biggest fear, just trying to keep him inside to keep him safe.”
She described the 16-year-old as a good kid with a big heart.
“He is the friendliest person you will ever meet,” Abbey said. “He is a genuine, loving, caring kid, the type of person that will just come up and give you a hug.”
Earlier this month, investigators released a photo of an older model Honda Civic they are searching for in connection with the teen’s disappearance. Authorities have not said who the car belongs to, but it has a Georgia tag with the license plate RUR 1584.
“His 17th birthday is in just 12 days and we’re really looking for some help from the public to assist in locating Mr. Haszleton,” DeKalb police Capt. T.R. Golden said.
Haszleton is 6 feet tall and was last seen wearing a black Nike track suit and white shoes. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call investigators at 770-724-7710.
— Please return to AJC.com for updates.
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