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Riley Strain's family invites Cajun Navy to look for their missing son

The University of Missouri student disappeared after a night out in downtown Nashville more than 10 days ago.
Riley Strain's family invites Cajun Navy to look for their missing son
Posted at 8:36 AM, Mar 20, 2024

The search for Riley Strain continues in downtown Nashville. The University of Missouri senior disappeared after a night out on the town more than 10 days ago. Now his family has asked a search and rescue team to come assist with the search.

Police from the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department are once again searching the Cumberland River and homeless encampments near the river. The Cajun Navy will begin their searches later this week. The Cajun Navy usually helps disaster victims after hurricanes and other storms. However, Strain's family contacted them to help find their son.

Strain went missing on Friday, March 8, after he was kicked out of Luke Bryan's bar on Lower Broadway. Since then, the bar has said it only served him one drink and two waters. Surveillance video of Strain shows him wandering around downtown Nashville, stumbling and eventually hitting his head on a pole and bouncing off of buildings. On Monday, Metro Nashville police released a new video of a very brief interaction between an officer and Strain. Strain answered he was doing OK.

The only physical evidence police have in the case is Strain's debit card found along the Cumberland River by a pair of women wanting to help the case. Police iterated again on Tuesday there has been no evidence of foul play.

"We feel we need the extra resources as we try to get more organized for our family and bring more clues to light," Strain's stepdad Chris Whiteid said. "We are very grateful for everyone that has done everything so far. We ask that you work and help us as we become more organized. We don't want individuals out there alone without us knowing. We appreciate more than you'll ever know about the outpouring we have received. Our goal is still to bring Riley home. We feel that is still a pliable goal."

What is the Cajun Navy and what is it doing to help?

The Cajun Navy formed after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.

"We just had a bunch of good ol' boys with boats who wanted to rescue people," said David Flagg, national director of operations for the United Cajun Navy. "Fast forward to today, our organization has went to every natural disaster in this country. To touch on the reason we are here, we were contacted by Riley's family and asked to step up and provide resources with this search activity. We have been involved since the first day we heard about it."

The Cajun Navy said it will conduct a ground search as it gets its boats into Nashville to search the waterways.

For those wanting to volunteer, you can contact info@unitedcajunnavy.org.

What do police say about the outside help?

Police said they understand the family wanting to bring in outside resources, and they respect any clues or evidence the Cajun Navy might bring forward to the investigation.

However, both police and the Cajun Navy stressed conspiracy theories aren't helping the effort and they are using precious resources on rumors.

"We've had people get frustrated with us," MNPD Det. Anthony Chandler said. "We have to weigh every piece of evidence we get evenly. There's a lot of tips that we are getting that are not tips."

The Cajun Navy also stressed safety for those wanting to contribute, including wearing proper clothing and shoes and understanding the terrain around the Cumberland River, which both the rescue group and police characterized as "treacherous."

"There's a lot of garbage, debris, needles, bodily fluids that are on the riverbanks that you don't want to be exposed to," Flagg said.

The Nashville mayor's office chimed in Tuesday afternoon, saying it offered to meet Strain's family.

"The mayor joins people across the city in praying for Riley Strain's family and for him to be located," Mayor Freddie O'Connell's office said in a statement. "The mayor has committed numerous resources to finding Riley and bringing answers to his family. MNPD continues to update the mayor regularly on the search. Anyone with information is encouraged to call Metro Police. The mayor invited Riley Strain’s family to meet, but out of respect to Riley's family and their desire for privacy, the mayor's office will not be commenting on any discussions the mayor had with the family."

What did Strain's family say?

Strain's family said they are grateful for every single person who has come forward to help find their son.

They said they have no ill will toward the friends Strain was with at the time of his disappearance.

"He's their best friend. We love these boys like our own. It's just as hard on them as it is on us," Strain's mom Michelle Whiteid said.

Strain's family said asking for extra help emerged from the fact that they were six hours away from Nashville, and the usual resources of family and friends in Missouri, where they know their city and landmarks.

They said they were frustrated but that it wasn't directly aimed at Nashville police, who said they wouldn't stop looking for Riley.

What Scripps News Nashville has covered

We have been following the case of the missing 22-year-old since we heard about his disappearance.

Viewers have sent us surveillance video, which they said they also turned over to police.

We have put together a timeline of Strain's last whereabouts based on those videos and what police have released.

We asked Metro police about his whereabouts before he arrived at Luke Bryan's bar, and they told us that they were only focusing on his whereabouts after he left. We also asked police how many missing persons cases there are in Nashville right now. So far, there are 21 active cases.

Reporter Nick Beres also delved into any issues of liability with our legal analyst, who said it's unlikely that could happen against the bar.

Reporters Nikki Hauser and Hunter Hoagland have talked with Strain's family throughout the process. We have kept in contact with them about what they know and how they are trying to find him.

This story was originally published by Emily R. West at Scripps News Nashville.


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