U.S. Army Specialist Mason Van Kuiken
BRADENTON, Florida - In Manatee County, there's a mystery over a 22-year-old missing soldier who seems to have vanished without a trace.
The parents of U.S. Army Specialist Mason Van Kuiken say they've made phone numerous phone calls to try to figure out what happened to their son. Dru Love and Mike Van Kuiken say so far this is the best timeline they've been able to develop:
- Army specialist Mason Van Kuiken from Bradenton is stationed at Ft. Carson, Colorado. He left the base without permission on March 14 when he had three days off.
- He drove to the Fort Hood, Texas area to visit his best friend, Will, who is also from Bradenton but is stationed there.
- But as Mason was headed back to Colorado a deputy pulled him over in the small town of Goldthwaite, Texas on March 15.
- A Mills County Sheriff's Office deputy told the family weapons were found inside Mason's vehicle that he didn't have proper permits for so he was arrested and his car impounded.
- Mason bonded out of jail the evening of March 17, and a bail bondsman employee took him to a motel in Early, Texas, where Mason's debit card was used to stay the night.
- The employee of the bondsman picked Mason up the morning of March 18 and took him to a Wells Fargo bank where he withdrew $7,400. While his bond was $150,000, the bondsman they say allowed Mason to pay $4,000 or $5,000 with the promise of sending the rest later.
- The woman working for the bondsman then drove Mason more than 100 miles away to a bus station in San Angelo, Texas, where he was last seen purchasing a ticket to Abilene, Texas so he could return to Colorado Springs.
Mason's mother said his disappearance has been tough on his family and friends. "When you have to, in your spare time, call hospitals and morgues looking for your son," she explained.
Mason's father, Mike Van Kuikena, said, "We don't know if he's dead or alive, if he's being held somewhere, or if he's homeless under a bridge."
When Mason disappeared, they called his captain at the base in Colorado where he's stationed. Mike said they were told, "He was on a watch for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but they didn't really do anything. They had him painting barracks."
Dru Love said,"It's disheartening. It just seems like it could have been avoided."
Mason's family said they had no idea he was suffering from PTSD, but looking back now they say they do recall that during his month-long visit at Christmas, he was quiet and couldn't sleep.
Mason's mother reached out to another mother at Manasota Operation Troop Support. Linda Craig, the director, knows all about PTSD and troops who sometimes take off because they feel they just need to get away.
Craig says, "Well, 'ghosting' is kind of a phrase that's used for military to say that 'I need help somehow, I didn't get the help, I'm anxious, I can't talk to the people around me anymore.'"
Dru Love said, "I just want my baby back. People just need to be aware that these men and women are going over there and they're in harm's way. The scary terrible things that they see and that they experience, and then they come back into civilization and they're just as my son described it. They have a 2-hour 'don't beat your wife' seminar and they're thrown back into society."
Mason hasn't used his bank card, his cell phone, or posted anything on Facebook since he went missing.
Meanwhile, a detective at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office has been assigned to his case. He is currently considered missing and endangered.