Aubrey Jayce Carroll hadn’t been seen since May 24, 2016.
The then-15-year-old boy — donning a short hair style, goatee and piercing in his left ear — left his high school early that day and didn’t return to his Griffin home, an FBI missing person’s flyer said at the time.
It was believed Carroll was staying with friends and that he was going to Jones County, where he had ties.
On Tuesday, a long-maned, bushy-faced 17-year-old Carroll emerged after a two-year search for him, Spalding County Sheriff’s Darrell Dix said in a statement.
“Thank y’all so much for your prayers and reaching out to my mom,” a sprightly Carroll said in a video message posted on the Spalding County sheriff’s Facebook page.
The quest to reunite Carroll with his family had been a week in the making.
The Spalding sheriff’s office, along with the FBI and Texas Rangers, briefed loved ones April 10 on Carroll’s whereabouts and showed photos of him on a Facebook page, which Carroll operated under an alias.
In the time since his disappearance, Carroll had five interactions with authorities from Alabama to Arizona under his alias, Dix said. Carroll, an extensive traveler of the West Coast and Midwest, had become part of a group of barterers, who only used cash and traveled the U.S.
“They basically looked like a group of people from the Woodstock era in their clothing and lifestyle,” Dix said. “He had a support group that he was with and all indications were that he was happy and was thriving.”
RELATED: Crime: Cold cases
And authorities, hoping for a safe reunion, wanted to keep it that way.
The plan was simple: local authorities would wait until Carroll had another encounter with law enforcement to begin the reunification process. Since Carroll was was no longer a juvenile, the FBI and Spalding County District Attorney’s Office determined there was no lawful way local deputies could force him back to Georgia. Sheriff’s deputies would instead meet him in another state, where he would be detained until they arrived for questioning.
For their plan to work, officials told loved ones at the briefing not to reach out to him.
It was, Dix said, “the safest course of action.”
“We felt that if we reached out to him too soon, he would disappear again, lose what support he had, and the search would have to start all over again — more than likely (while Carroll was) under a new alias,” Dix said.
But a hasty family member, who was given information by a relative at the briefing, reached out to Carroll anyway.
ALSO: Crime in Atlanta
The loved one explained to Carroll what was happening and convinced him to call his mother.
The relative’s plan worked: Carroll reached out to his mom and told her he was ready to come home.
“Aubrey’s mother reached out to me and told me that she had been contacted and that he was on the way home from out of state,” Dix said. “(She) relayed messages from me to him assuring him that he would not be arrested and that he could live as he wanted.”
The reunion was on Carroll’s terms, which included deciding who he spoke to and where he would go when he got to Georgia. He also agreed to meet with Dix and Spalding sheriff’s Lt. Mike Morris for questioning at a location of Carroll’s choosing.
Details of Carroll’s travels were not released, but Dix said Carroll’s story matched the information investigators gathered.
“He told us that he left on his own, and had not been abducted, hurt, abused, exploited, or harmed in any way,” Dix said.
There was also no indication he was helped by anyone in Spalding County during his disappearance.
In the Spalding County sheriff’s video, Carroll thanked those who’d been looking for him: “I appreciate y’all so much,” he said. “I’m all right, I’m OK, I’ve been smiling, and y’all should do the same.”
In other news: