Details of Disappearance
Thomas was last seen near 5th and Nebraska Streets in Peru, Nebraska on December 3, 2010. She had left a party off-campus and was walking towards her dormitory room at Peru State College. She was last seen near the town water tower, only a few hundred feet from her dormitory, but she apparently never made it inside. Right before she disappeared, Tyler sent a text message to a friend saying she didn't know where she was. She has never been heard from again. She was reported missing at 3:00 a.m., an hour and a half after he was last seen. The temperature outside that night was in the teens and Thomas wasn't wearing a coat. She had drunk beer and several shots of tequila at the party.
Within days, fellow Peru student Joshua Keadle was named as a person of interest in Thomas's disappearance. They had gone on a date once, but Thomas didn't like Keadle and told others she wanted to avoid him. On December 9, six days after she went missing, he was arrested for evidence tampering and providing false information to the police. A photo of Keadle is posted below this case summary. Several days later, he was charged with felony rape and false imprisonment after another woman told police he had sexually assaulted her three times on October 31, a month before Thomas disappeared.
Another teenage girl came forward and claimed that in April 2008, when she was fifteen years old, Keadle had raped her while she was spending the night on the campus of Midland Lutheran College, now called Midland University, in Fremont, Nebraska. Keadle was a student at the college at the time. He was charged with first-degree sexual assault of a minor in that case. In addition, authorities in Madison County, Nebraska charged him with indecent exposure; he allegedly exposed himself to a woman in Norfolk, Nebraska in April 2010.
Keadle, a junior sports management major from South Carolina who had studied at several other colleges in Nebraska, at first told the police that he'd seen Thomas walking down the street on the night of her disappearance but didn't speak to her. Later he said she'd gotten in his car, he drove her to the Peru Boat Dock on the Missouri River so they could smoke marijuana. Keadle stated she agreed to perform a sex act on him in exchange for a ride to Omaha, Nebraska, but after they had the sexual encounter inside his vehicle, she accused him of raping her and threw her cellular phone at him. He said they had a verbal and physical argument and then he left her alone on the dock at 2:00 a.m., returned to his dormitory room and took a shower. The dock by the river is the same place where the alleged October 31 rape started, and both the October incident and Thomas's disappearance happened in the early hours of the morning. After Keadle gave his second statement about Thomas, authorities checked the dock and found tire tracks, consistent with Keadle's 1996 Ford Explorer, near the riverbank. There were also drag marks leading from the tire tracks down the bank to the river's edge.
In March 2012, Keadle was found guilty of the 2008 rape. He was sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison, significantly less than the maximum of 50 years. He will become eligible for parole in 2018 and for mandatory release in 2021. In 2012, Thomas's mother filed a wrongful death suit against both Keadle and Peru State College. In the week before Thomas's disappearance, Peru State College's director of campus security had recommended that Keadle be expelled. He was failing his classes, he'd been criminally charged with kicking in the door of his dormitory room, two students had accused him of sexual harassment in the first two weeks after he moved into the university residence halls, and the campus security director knew he'd been accused of rape while he was a student at another Nebraska college. The college did not expel him immediately, but they did not plan to allow him to come back for the second semester.
In August 2015, a judge dismissed the suit against Peru State College, ruling they could not have reasonably foreseen that Keadle posed a risk of violence. In May 2016, a civil jury in the suit against Keadle awarded the Thomas family $2.64 billion in damages. This incldues $80 million for her wrongful death, $100 million for pain and suffering caused to her family, and $30 million for emotional distress, as well as $2.4 billion in punitive damages. (Under Nebraska law, punitive damages awarded in civil suits have to be paid to the local school district instead of to plaintiffs.) Since Keadle has no assets and is currently incarcerated, Thomas's family doesn't expect to be able to collect on the civil judgment.
In October 2017, nearly seven years after Thomas's disappearance, Keadle was charged with first-degree murder in her case. He is awaiting trial on the charge, still incarcerated for the earlier rape conviction.
Thomas's loved ones never believed she left of her own accord, because she left behind her purse and coat and she was not having any problems in her life. She was happy at college and had been named captain of the school dance team. A graduate of Omaha Bryan High School, she lived in Bellevue, Nebraska when she was not at school, and she dreamed of becoming a teacher. Foul play is suspected in her case due to the circumstances involved.
Above: Joshua Keadle