JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The families of two boys who have been missing from Jacksonville for 12 years honored them Friday with a "Balloons of Hope" event at Memorial Park in Riverside that they hope will renew interest in the case.
Bryan Andrew Hayes, who was 13 at the time, and Mark Anthony Degner, who was 12 at the time, were special education students at Paxon Middle School.
On February 10, 2005, the boys ran out of the school building after an argument with a teacher and disappeared. The boys were known to be best friends and told others that they planned to run away.
It was later learned that Bryan was seen getting into a car outside the school the day he disappeared. Witnesses were not sure if Mark was with him. This caused authorities to reclassify the missing boys as missing and endangered. There have been a few sightings of the boys throughout the years but their cases remain unsolved.
Age-progressed images of the boys have been released showing Mark at age 22 and Bryan at age 18. Authorities said Bryan has a scar on the left side of his torso.
Family members said the balloon release Friday was not a memorial but a way of reminding people that the boys might still be out there somewhere.
“You question. You know, you wonder. Your mind goes in every direction,” said Angie Campbell, Mark's aunt. “Sometimes it leads you down a bad path, a dark path, and luckily, our family has great faith.”
It’s that “faith” that brought them together Friday, 12 years after the boys disappeared.
“So many things have been made available for us as far as the recovery, and yet we still don't have any answers, but we do still have the same faith and hope to God that they will come home,” said Darlene Briggs, Mark's grandmother.
Another of Mark's aunts said it's hard to wrap their heads around the fact that they're now looking for grown men and not two young boys.
Mark's loved ones said they’re getting help from an organization called Bair Find that travels to baseball games around the country and distributes photos of missing children. They’re hoping someone will recognize the boys.
A $10,000 reward is still being offered in the case.
Mark's family said the recent discovery of Kamiyah Mobley, who was kidnapped as a newborn from a Jacksonville hospital 18 years ago, has given them renewed hope that the boys could still be alive. Police said Kamiyah, who grew up as Alexis Manigo, was raised by the woman who took her. That woman is now facing kidnapping charges in Duval County, and Alexis has been reunited with her birth parents.
Tips called in to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children helped detectives find Alexis, who was identified as baby Kamiyah through a DNA match.
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Bryan or Mark is asked to call the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office at 904-630-0500 or The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678.