Jason Huff was a normal guy until he vanished into thin air.
Huff, a 47-year-old from Cameron, Missouri, was last seen in Dearborn at a Trex Mart convenience store. His car was later found in a rural patch of Clinton County, about four miles north of Plattsburg.
It’s the oddity of Huff’s case that baffles the Cameron community, and the lack of information has stymied law enforcement’s progress.
Organized search parties have come up empty. Huff’s family isn’t speaking publicly about the case, except through social media. The Cameron Police Department is releasing only some information while shielding the rest.
There are many questions, but one central theme: Where is Jason Huff?
Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020: Huff leaves home in Cameron
Cameron Police Chief Rick Bashor told News-Press NOW that Huff left his home inside the city limits to “run errands.”
Jimmy Potts, editor of the Cameron Citizen-Observer, said that’s not uncommon. St. Joseph is about 30 minutes away and has more shops like Best Buy and Target.
Huff is spotted on surveillance video at multiple stores in St. Joseph.
“Now, this is a difficult case because we’re trying to find all those answers,” Bashor said. “Everyone’s working, trying to put everything together.”
According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, some 600,000 people go missing every year. But unusual doesn’t begin to describe Huff’s case.
“This isn’t something that happens a lot in Cameron,” Potts said. “And Jason Huff was well known. As a soccer coach, he has a daughter involved in athletics. Nobody expected anything like this, you know?”
Huff also worked as a lieutenant for the Missouri Department of Corrections. In 2019, he received an award from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson for helping to end a “volatile standoff.”
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020: Huff makes a stop in Dearborn
Huff is spotted at the Trex Mart, just off Interstate 29. The gas station is located in Dearborn, Missouri, about 20 minutes south of St. Joseph.
It’s unclear if Huff went directly from St. Joseph to Dearborn based on publicly available details. Dearborn is just under an hour’s drive from Cameron, where Huff lives.
Police say Huff looked fine during his stop at the gas station and Subway sandwich shop combo.
“We’re using everything we can,” Bashor said. “With phone pings and different things of that nature, to see what those movements are.”
Potts said Huff was an average guy who worked as a prison guard.
“This isn’t a guy that ran with a nefarious crowd or anything like that,” Potts said. “Somebody you wouldn’t expect something bad to happen to. This is just a normal guy you would see at a cross country meet. Because of that, people are just baffled by what happened. There’s no rumors or innuendo because he was just an up and up member of the community.”
Huff was last seen driving a white 2014 Volkswagen Passat with Missouri license plates.
Friday, Nov. 13, 2020: Huff’s car is found
That 2014 Volkswagen Passat was found on Friday and reported to law enforcement by an area farmer. The car was found on a rural road, about four miles north of Plattsburg, Missouri and about 25 minutes from the Dearborn gas station.
Bashor told News-Press NOW that Huff was last seen on Thursday, but his trail goes cold in the overnight hours.
“Unfortunately, we get to that late Thursday area, things just kind of stop right there,” Bashor said. “We do know a location where the car is at. And then from that point, you’re going from all directions.”
Police haven’t ruled out foul play in Huff’s case, but they also haven’t ruled it in. Bashor said the situation is classified as a missing persons case.
“A theory is, if he did walk away from his car, then what direction?” Bashor said.
Searches by law enforcement have been fruitless. Eventually, community members formed their own search parties, lead by Travis Eldredge. Eldredge is the step-father of Leah Dawson, a woman whose body was found under a tree in Maysville, Missouri, a town about 30 minutes north of Plattsburg.
“I think there’s a lot of analogies with Leah Dawson being how long she was missing, of course, not this amount of time,” Potts said. “But this, they just found a vehicle. They know a little bit about where (Huff) was that night, but it’s still kind of a mystery. And there’s not a lot of information coming out this time.”
Kenneth Wykert was sentenced to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Dawson. No charges have been filed in Huff’s case.
Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020: Huff is reported missing
While Huff’s car was found on Friday, police didn’t link the vehicle to him until Saturday, when he was reported missing. There was a three-day delay between the time Huff left to run errands in St. Joseph to the day he was reported missing.
“Through our investigation, we also found that a farmer had called in and that the vehicle was checked on,” Bashor said. “And then once we were able to put that information in for missing persons, we learned that it had been checked on the day before. So that’s what led us back as far as working on that.”
Because the case is classified as an active investigation, the Cameron Police Department is not releasing details about the investigation, including the original 911 call to report Huff missing.
The Huff family and friends, who run a Facebook page called “Bring Home Jason Huff,” declined to be interviewed for this story. Melissa Thompson, Huff’s sister, confirmed it was normal for Huff to run errands in St. Joseph.
An administrator of the Facebook page declined to answer a question about the timing of Huff’s missing person’s report.
“A father, a brother, a uncle, a cousin, a son, a friend, a co-worker, and so much more,” an administrator of the Facebook page wrote in one post. “He is deeply loved and respected by many that know him. Help us bring him home.”
Police don’t consider Huff’s case to be cold, though it’s unclear what, if any, active leads detectives are following. Bashor asks anyone with information to call the Cameron Police Department at 816-632-6521.
“SOMEONE KNOWS SOMETHING!!!!!!!” the Huff family posted on Facebook. “A person doesn’t simply vanish. Law enforcement have nothing at this point that contributes to his whereabouts.”
For now, the Huff family appears to be turning away from law enforcement and seeking answers elsewhere.
“We are seeking other options and will be in contact with an attorney and private investigator,” an administrator of the Bring Home Jason Huff Facebook page wrote on Jan. 10.
As of the publish date for this story, Huff has been missing for more than 100 days.
The trains roll past the Region H Hazmat Building on such a regular basis, it would be easy not to notice.
Bill Brinton, Buchanan County’s emergency management coordinator, takes more than a passing interest. It’s his job to think about what could be on those trains.
“There are probably 50, 60 trains that go by this building every day,” Brinton said. “A lot of times, I’ll sit out there and watch them go by.”
He takes special interest in the tanker cars that carry various types of liquids: acids, farm chemicals, petroleum and crude oil. No one is quite sure how much comes through, although it is possible to glean information from the placards on the trains. The Association of American Railroads will provide a written list of the top 25 hazmat commodities transported through a community.
“There’s lots of petroleum that goes by,” Brinton said. “They go through populated areas. Right through Downtown St. Joe. I do worry about the potential. It’s very, very minute, but I worry about the potential for and accident.”
St. Joseph isn’t oil country, but it is the middle of the country. Even with revocation of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit, millions of barrels of crude make the journey on freight trains and pipelines from Canada or the Dakotas to Texas and Illinois. Some of it passes through Buchanan County, both on rail and through an oil pipeline that went into service in 2010.
That pipeline, known as the Keystone Pipeline, runs through southern Buchanan County on its 2,687-mile journey from Hardisty, Alberta, to an end point in Illinois, where refineries are able to process heavy Canadian crude. The company that operates it, TC Energy, is the same one that was seeking to build the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would have delivered crude from Canadian tar sands on a separate route from Canada to Nebraska.
TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, employs 30 people in Missouri and pays $1 million in property taxes to different entities in Buchanan County, including $590,000 to the St. Joseph School District, according to county records. Brinton thinks the pipeline, which moves about 590,000 barrels of crude a day, avoided the kind of controversy that plagued Keystone XL because the company utilized existing right-of-way for parts of its route.
Records show five major pipelines bring oil, petroleum products and natural gas through Buchanan County.
Robynn Tysver, senior communications specialist with TC Energy, said the company works with emergency managers on the local level and conducted 189 safety drills across its network in 2019. “Pipelines are one of the safest and most environmentally responsible methods of transporting large volumes of petroleum products and natural gas,” she said in an e-mail to News-Press NOW.
Officials from both the pipeline and rail industries declined to speculate on whether the revocation of Keystone XL, which would have delivered 830,000 barrels of crude a day, will lead to increased oil transport on freight trains.
A spokesperson for the Association of American Railroads notes that rail transport of oil products tends to fluctuate. Trains shipped a record 11% of U.S. oil production in 2014, but that number dropped to 3.2% in 2019 as pipeline capacity increased and output dropped due to falling demand for gasoline. Other commodities see a similar ebb and flow. Year-to-date, rail transport of coal is down 12% and petroleum products is off 13%, while grain shipments increased 34%.
Brinton coordinates the volunteers with the Region H Hazmat Team, many of them firefighters in communities across Northwest Missouri, who work closely with railroads and pipeline companies on disaster simulations throughout the year. Their training focuses on multiple hazardous materials, like natural gas, petroleum products, chlorine and anhydrous ammonia. He said the key is to be ready for anything.
“The hazmat responders are trained to stay away and look,” he said. “We have binoculars on all of our vehicles, and you look for the plume. You look to see if it’s leaking or it’s on fire. And you make sure what’s on there before you go near it. We all work together, the pipeline association and rail lines, to make it as safe as we can.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation reported 29 serious pipeline accidents and 26 hazardous material rail accidents in the United States last year. There were 226 hazmat accidents on highways last year.
Pharmacy doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that are not being used in long-term care facilities are being rerouted to others who need them.
A federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens allowed the pharmacies to vaccinate residents and workers in long-term living facilities.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said the extra available doses from pharmacies will go towards healthcare workers in the state. Currently the state plans on using more than 30,000 extra vaccine doses from Walgreens specifically.
“In looking at the allocation with Walgreens and we asked for approximately 33,000 doses and some change,” Dr. Adam Crumbliss, director of the division of community and public health at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said. “What we were asking for was the ability to vaccinate 16,000 Missourians right away and not let the doses sit.”
When the CDC made allocations for long-term living facilities, the bed count for each facility was used rather than the actual number of people wanting the vaccine, meaning there are extra doses not being used on Missourians.
“They anticipate a third dose round being finalized in late March or early April. We did want to reclaim those doses as quickly as possible to be used soon,” Crumbliss said. “With the variant COVID strains, to some degree vaccinating citizens is a race against the variants.”
CVS and Walgreens have been cooperatingwith the state to make sure vaccine doses are being used efficiently.
In a statement, CVS Health told News-Press NOW, “Missouri Governor Mike Parsons’ decision to transfer vaccines from the long-term care pharmacy partnership to other vaccine providers in the state helps ensure these valuable doses are put to best use, as other governors have done. We look forward to continuing to partner with the state on this important initiative and to complete vaccinations at our more than 600 long-term care partner facilities where residents and staff are eager to return to normalcy.”
In St. Joseph, the vaccination process is going smoothly, according to health department officials. Debra Bradley, the department’s director, said the city is trying to show the state that it is able to receive and distribute vaccine doses quickly.
“I have informed the state that we would be interested in receiving more vaccines so we can partner with the community clinic further and get everybody that wants to be vaccinated and do it in a timely manner,” St. Joseph Health Department Director Debra Bradley said.
Bradley also said there are some health-care workers who informed her department they had not yet received the vaccine and would like to get it.
“We were surprised to hear how many independent health-care workers we have in the Buchanan County area,” Bradley said. “So we had published a survey if you are in the health-care field and are interested in receiving the vaccine to let us know. We got a very positive response from providers interested in receiving the vaccine.”
On the state level, where those extra doses are going is not set in stone. Crumbliss did say that the state currently is expediting the shipping process of those vaccines to make sure they get used right away. He added that the state would use these doses to focus on low-income and minority groups.