Details of Disappearance
Austin and his biological brother, Edward, went to live in the home of Edward Eugene Bryant and Linda Kay Bryant in the late 1990s. Originally foster children, they were adopted by the Bryants in March 2000. Austin was four years old at the time and Edward was seven. They were considered special needs children and the Bryants collected more than $1,700 a month from the El Paso County Department of Human Services for their care.
The couple adopted nine children in all, including a younger biological brother of Austin and Edward, and Linda had one biological daughter who also took in foster children. Photos of Linda and Edward Eugene are posted with this case summary. They lived in the 18000 block of Granite Circle in Monument, Colorado between 1999 and 2005.
In January 2011, authorities were notified that Austin was missing and hadn't been seen since sometime between 2003 and 2005. When they investigated they discovered Edward was also unaccounted for and was last seen in 2001. The other children in the family had been forbidden to talk about them.
When questioned, Linda at first claimed the children were living with her, then claimed they had gone to visit their biological mother in Oklahoma, then admitted they hadn't lived with her in years.
Linda and Edward Eugene stated both boys had run away from home, but they gave different information as to when; Linda said they both ran away in May 2003, and Edward Eugene said Edward ran away in 2001 and Austin in 2005. Their adoptive parents never reported them missing.
Someone billed Medicaid on Edward's behalf in December 2003, after he is supposed to have vanished. Investigators determined that Austin was enrolled at Monument Academy Charter School until August 2003, when he was withdrawn, supposedly to be homeschooled. They could find no school records or medical records for either Edward or Austin after 2003.
Once the children's adoptions were completed, the state was no longer allowed to send social workers to check up on them, making their absence easier to conceal. Linda made active efforts to make it look like the boys were still living with her: for example, she printed photographs of other children off the internet, displayed them in her home and claimed they were pictures of Austin and Edward.
James Bryant, the boys' adoptive brother, and Ricky and Bryan Pennington, both foster children of Linda's daughter, were the ones who came forward about Austin's disappearance in early 2011. According to James, Austin was beaten, denied food several times a week, and locked in the garage for days at a time.
Bryan said Austin had told him he'd been locked in a trunk and shocked with a taser, although Bryan admitted he hadn't actually witnessed these incidents himself. He said he had seen Austin wrapped up in blankets so tightly that he couldn't move. James said he believed his adoptive parents might have killed Austin. He said he had never met Edward and had been told the boy had been sent to relatives in Arizona.
The Bryants moved to Texas in 2005 and then separated sometime afterwards. They filed for bankruptcy in 2007 and listed $126,125 in adoption benefits as part of their income. They listed eight children, including Austin and Edward, as dependents. They still had five children in their care by 2011; a sixth is in prison and the seventh, James, is a soldier stationed in Kentucky.
In February 2011, the Bryants were arrested and charged with multiple counts of theft, conspiracy, forgery and attempting to influence a public official. They had collected approximately $175,000 in benefit payments for the children's care after the children were no longer living in their home.
Edward Eugene said he had no knowledge of the family's receiving benefits for the children. Linda admitted she had deliberately covered up their disappearances in order to keep the payments coming.
Linda faced 148 felony counts and Edward Eugene was charged with 13 felonies. None of the charges are related to the actual disappearance of the children or the alleged abuse of them. Linda and Edward Eugene have denied having abused or killed either Edward or Austin. Their other five minor children are now wards of the state of Texas.
In January 2012, Linda pleaded guilty to 54 felonies: four counts of theft, two counts of conspiracy to commit theft and 48 counts of attempting to influence a public servant. In March, she was sentenced to 42 years in prison. In April, Edward Eugene pleaded guilty to five similar felony charges; nineteen other counts were dismissed. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Extensive searches in Colorado have turned up no indication of Austin or Edward's whereabouts, and authorities fear they may be dead. Their cases remain unsolved.