Sheriff’s office issues apology to family of Nick Allen for investigator showing lack of empathy

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DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. — A local sheriff’s office is issuing an apology to the family of a teen who was missing for eight months before being found by an independent dive team.

Nick Allen, 17, was found inside a vehicle in the Yadkin River earlier this month.

This came after the family got in touch with independent dive team, Adventures with Purpose.

“My gut feeling just keeps telling me he’s in that river — something bad has happened to him,” Trudy Bernstein, Nick’s aunt said.

A gut feeling is what made Bernstein reach out to the of Oregon-based volunteer dive team.

She and her family were frustrated by Davidson County Sheriff’s Office’s handling of Nick’s missing persons case.

Nick, along with his mother’s vehicle and rifle, had been gone since February.

“I’m extremely disappointed. I grew up in this community. This is my home. I expected better — I really did,” Judy Riley, Nick’s mom said.

The now-viral video shows the dive team as they found the car within minutes of using sonar. The video also shows an investigator display what the sheriff calls a lack of empathy towards the family and the Adventures with Purpose dive team.

“I assumed that they would get here and it would be handled respectfully and properly,” Riley said. “All we got from the minute they pulled up — yeah, I pretty much felt like I was being treated like a criminal.”

Tuesday, Sheriff Richie Simmons took to Facebook to note an apology to the family and the independent dive time.

It reads:

“As the Sheriff of Davidson County, please allow me to provide this sincere statement to the family of Nicholas Allen, the Adventures with Purpose Team, and the citizens of Davidson County.

On October 1, 2020, Adventures with Purpose located a vehicle in the Yadkin River from the York Hill public access area. They were called to this area by family members of Nicholas Allen regarding his disappearance in February of this year. The family requested this group from Oregon due to their expertise in diving and the fact that they have completed a number of recoveries in past dives. Adventures with Purpose’s divers entered the river and located a “crossover” style vehicle bearing the matching license plate of the vehicle in which Nick was last known to be operating. Their divers did remove the license plate from the submerged vehicle, presented the license plate to the family, and it was then confirmed that license plate belonged to the Dodge Journey last operated by Nick. Adventures with Purpose members then contacted Davidson County Communications for a Law Enforcement response.

The response from the investigator with the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office was not empathetic or kind to the family of Nick, and also was not welcoming or appreciative to Adventures with Purpose. Please know that the interaction you had with our investigator does not represent how we train our officers, and his actions are not in accordance with our expectations. There are no excuses for this type of behavior and we will work tirelessly to ensure this type of behavior is never repeated by another member from this office under my administration.

We send our deepest sympathies to the family of Nick Allen. We are so very sorry for your loss and please know that we will do better in our interactions with grieving families in the future. We are also grateful to the team from Adventures with Purpose for bringing closure to Nick’s family.”

The Simmons told FOX8 he’s not disappointed in how the investigation was conducted.

“I’m not ashamed of how we handled this. We gave it the best shot we had with the equipment we had,” he said.

He said throughout the investigation his officers gave their 100 percent efforts in trying to locate the teen. Simmons said he’s more upset at the lack of empathy shown by an investigator involved.

How quickly the Adventures with Purpose dive team located Nick’s vehicle made the family question whether enough had been done to find their loved one. But Simmons said there were other stipulations in front of his divers when they originally searched the river back in February.

“There were flooding conditions the day that it happened. We tried with what equipment we had and obviously we didn’t find him.” Simmons said.

Wednesday, the sheriff, his detectives and Nick’s family met for a private meeting to discuss how the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office can be better in the future.

It’s something that brings closure to his Nick’s mom.

“Now I can go on forward with my grieving. knowing that — I’m sure with as much attention as this has gotten, we’re going to see change,” Riley said.

This Friday there will be a memorial service held for Nick at 10 a.m. at Psalm 91 Church in Tyro.

The following week, they will hold another service in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.

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