Search for James Hepworth continues, wife and children prepared for the worst.

August 19, 2016
Amanda and James Hepworth

Amanda and James Hepworth

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By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

WEARE TOWNSHIP — It’s been 19 days since Weare Township resident James Hepworth left his job in Ludington, mid-shift, and drove about 60 miles away to a remote location near the Pine River in the Manistee National Forest and hasn’t been seen since, leaving behind his wife, Amanda, and their eight children. Amanda, says she has come to terms with the most likely conclusion that James committed suicide.

Amanda says 37-year-old James was a secure man who loved her and their children deeply. Their children range in ages from 3 to 18. He was also a loyal person. “He loved those children more than anything. He worked a lot, sometimes 60 hours a week and he wasn’t always around. He would often head right to bed. But, he loved his children and would do anything to provide for them. He also was a dependable person who believed in following the rules. He would often go into work with a high fever or other times when he wasn’t feeling well. He didn’t want to let his bosses down. That’s why this situation is very difficult and very unlike him. He wouldn’t just leave work like he did.”

Amanda says James had a strong fear of being rejected.

“He feared being rejected by us and he would often push us away as a result,” she says, adding that he had been estranged from his parents and siblings for many years. He was also heartbroken that his grandfather, his only relative that he was close to, had passed last May.

“His grandpa lived on the same road as we did. Our children and James would go to his house and watch movies and eat popcorn. His family made him move — he had to because of his health — and he died. It really devastated him. I think he felt alone. I know that sounds odd since he has eight children, but I really do believe he felt that way. He would often say that we would be better off without him.”

The Hepworth's minivan

The Hepworth’s minivan

James had never been diagnosed with depression, but Amanda says that his family has a history of it. “I think he was afraid of the stigma of seeking treatment. I know that looking back he should have done whatever it takes to help himself.”

She says he had a habit of going on into the woods on their property and disappearing for a few hours. His children would find him, in his hammock by the swamp. “They would say, ‘come back home’ and he would.”

Amanda says law enforcement and many civilians had been helping with the search for James. His 2001 Chrysler Town and Country minivan was found August 7 by some people who came across it in the woods while two-tracking near the Wexford-Lake counties line. She says James did not leave Oceana or Mason counties very often. “He liked routines and was not comfortable being far from home,” she says. “But, I don’t think he chose that spot at random. He camped at the rustic campground near that area when he was a kid. He pointed it out to me one day when we drove by there and he said that we were going to camp there some day. I really think he was intentional about going there.”

She says law enforcement have not suspected foul play. However, all four of his van’s tires had been slashed, the doors were unlocked and James’ handgun holster was left in the vehicle.

“He always carried a 9mm pistol,” Amanda says.

Amanda says she has accepted that James has most likely killed himself because he wouldn’t have remained out of communication this long. “He has not turned on his cell phone since he left,” she says. “Law enforcement has been monitoring the cell phone to see if it would ping a tower and it has not. I have been out there several times searching for him in that area and have had good cell service. James has already missed some of our children’s birthdays and he never would have done that. Our 3-year-old is having a birthday soon, and he adored her. He also did not take any camping gear with him.”

james_hewporth_last_knownAmanda says since she has been driving the van again, people have called it into 911, thinking it was James. The van has two distinct “daylighter” lights on the front. “I really appreciate the fact knowing how many people care about this case, but I want people to know that while his van was found, he is still missing.”

While official searches have been called off, Amanda is still looking. She plans on limiting the searches to weekends now. Finding James’ body would certainly bring closure to his family, but it would also mean more financial security for them as well.

The Hepworth children are homeschooled and James was the sole financial provider to the family. The children are involved heavily in 4-H by raising farm animals. Participating at the Western Michigan Fair in Ludington, a week after their dad’s disappearance, and preparing for the Oceana County Fair, which takes place next week, has helped keep the children active and focused on something else, Amanda says. “It doesn’t mean we haven’t grieved. We have cried together many times these past few weeks. The kids have a hard time sleeping at night, as do I. It’s tough on them. The boys have put on a front, thinking they have to be the men of the family. But, it’s a difficult time.”

Adding to the difficulty is the family’s limited income. James’ job supported the family. If his body is not found, there is a seven-year period before he can be declared dead, Amanda says, meaning that the family will not receive Social Security benefits.

James Hepworth

James Hepworth

“I homeschool our children and I think that has created a strong bond between us,” Amanda says. “If I had to get a full-time job, I would no longer be able to do that.”

The community outpouring, however, has been tremendous, she adds. “The kids are getting ready for the Oceana County Fair and we have had people donate feed for the animals for the next few weeks. Selling the animals will help pay some of the expenses but more importantly, being in 4-H has been a valuable learning experience for the children.

“I’m not the type of person to ask for help and I am very introverted. It’s been hard to ask others to help but I am so grateful. The love that this community has shown has just been amazing. I just can’t do it by myself.”

A fund has been established at Donations are also being accepted at Gales IGA, 710 S. State St., Hart, and the Michigan State University Oceana County Extension Office, 210 Johnson St., Hart.

Amanda says anyone who is searching for James should make sure they put their safety first and also to not pick up any artifact that may be evidence. Instead, they should mark and take note of the area and contact law enforcement. The Oceana County Sheriff’s Office is the lead investigative agency on the case with support from the Michigan State Police, Cadillac Post.

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