Family of missing Vermont man fights suspect's release

 Austin Colson
Austin Colson (WCAX)
Published: Apr. 19, 2018 at 5:41 PM EDT
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A federal courtroom in Burlington was packed Thursday, as friends and family of a missing man pushed to keep the suspect behind bars.

Richard Whitcomb is the suspect in the disappearance of Austin Colson, 19. In court Thursday, family and friends wore homemade shirts that asked, "Where's Austin?" They think that is a question Whitcomb can answer.

"It's a parent's worst nightmare," Kelly Leighton said.

Leighton is part of the community search team that has spent every weekend since early February looking for any sign of Austin Colson.

"Each weekend we learn something new, we learn new techniques," Leighton said.

Colson was last seen in South Royalton. Now that the snow is starting to melt, the group is asking residents who live in the area to be on the lookout for clues. They don't want any potential evidence to get lost.

"Check your properties, check the sides of the road. Any information you get, you hear, please get it to the state police. We just want him home," Leighton said.

Police say Colson planned to sell scrap metal the morning he went missing. A trailer he borrowed from his dad was found filled with metal on a back road in Sharon. Investigators named convicted felon Richard Whitcomb as a suspect. Colson's family tells WCAX News Colson was meeting Whitcomb to sell that metal when he disappeared.

"I have some knowledge of his less than kind ways," Aimee Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson has known Whitcomb for about 20 years. She says Whitcomb threatened her and her son, and assaulted another member of her family.

"He just doesn't seem to take the high road on anything," Hutchinson said.

This group believes Whitcomb had a role in Colson's disappearance.

"We have a lot of reason to believe that he is very guilty," said Dana Colson, Austin's dad.

Whitcomb is being held on a gun possession charge. Now, he wants to be released to a drug treatment facility. A judge agreed but no beds are available.

"The more this guy is under a microscope the more dirt they are going to find on him," Dana Colson said.

Court documents show Whitcomb told police he used a gun as collateral during a drug deal with Austin Colson. Police found the gun at Whitcomb's home.

Whitcomb's family wouldn't talk with WCAX News as they left the court.

Meanwhile, Colson's family continues to look for leads.

"We will continue the search every weekend until Austin is found," his father said.

The state is appealing the decision to release Whitcomb.

Vermont State Police tell us Austin Colson's disappearance is still considered a missing person case, not a homicide.