Family desperate for news about missing man as search enters sixth day

Joe LaBute, Jr.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Nearly a week after a young man was last seen at a bar in the Short North, family members and friends are still hoping for a good outcome but fear what may have happened to him.

“I just want him to come home,” Stacey Reigle said.

Throughout the years, Reigle said, her cousin Joey LaBute, Jr. has been more like a brother to her.

“We would argue, we would laugh, we would have fun, we would play video games,” Reigle said. “We’ve just always been really close.”

Reigle said her cousin loves the television show “Game of Thrones” and likes video games.

“He was one of those people that you could not talk to for days and pick up and it was like you talked to him all the time,” Reigle said.

Joe LaBute, Jr.
Joe LaBute, Jr.

The last time she saw her cousin was Friday at the Union Cafe on High Street. Reigle said she went out with her husband, LaBute and others in the Short North.

“He was really happy when we got there and we just had a good time,” Reigle said. “We were singing and dancing, and then the next thing I knew, we were trying to get ahold of him and couldn’t.”

Calls and texts to LaBute’s cell went unanswered. The family began to worry the next day. On Sunday morning, LaBute’s half brother said he received a text from his aunt telling him something was wrong.

“You don’t hear that every day,” Patrick LaBute said. “Missing? What do you mean?”

Patrick LaBute described his half brother as a gentle and easygoing person.

“He would never go out of his way to do anything to anyone,” Patrick LaBute said. “So just thinking about him out there and that someone would want to do that to him—if that is, you know, that’s where our minds are going.”

He added, “You don’t want to go there, but we just don’t have a lot of answers.”

As of Thursday afternoon, Columbus police detectives had not yet released surveillance video from inside the Union Cafe.

As they wait, family members and friends have been handing out flyers and posting on social media. They started an online fundraising page with a goal of $10,000, which was met in just one day.

With that money, the family said they’re looking into hiring a private investigator.

“We just feel like we have to do everything,” Patrick LaBute said. “If it was one of us that was missing, we’d want everyone to do everything they could.”

Longtime friends like Justin Mertz are helping, too.

“Just crazy,” Mertz said. “You don’t think that something like this is ever going to happen to you.”

Mertz said he and Joey LaBute have been friends since they were 12 years old.

“We’ve always just stayed in touch—someone I talk to every day,” Mertz, who works at Union, said. “For something so personal like this to happen, again, it’s just unreal.”

For LaBute’s relatives and friends, the situation is surreal.

“I’m trying to go on with my daily life,” Refle said. “It’s just really hard. It’s very distracting.”

Asked what he wanted to say to his brother, Patrick LaBute said, “Just want to see him again. Just be strong.”

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