Army Sergeant Patrick Rust survived two business trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 24-year-old was only back at Fort Drum in New York for about 30 days when he disappeared from a bar in Watertown, NY in March 2007. Six months later, his remains were found in a nearby field.
Thirteen years have passed and his mother Judy Rust is still struggling to find out what happened to her son.
“I just want to know what happened to him,” Judy said to Dateline. “Years have passed and we still have no answers.”
Patrick grew up in Russell, New York, near Fort Drum and, after graduating from Edwards-Knox High School in Hermon, attended college in 2001 to become a welder. But a few months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, his plans changed and he was inspired to join the US Army.
“He loved being in the army,” said Judy. “It was his first taste of the outside world and he loved seeing all different places.”
Judy told Dateline Patrick that she returned home in January 2007 and had only been home a month when he received his orders for his next order. On June 2, he would go to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he would be trained as a field sergeant.
“He was really excited when he told me,” said Judy. “I could hear it in his voice. He was just very happy. “
Judy last spoke to her son on the phone two days before his disappearance. Patrick told her that he had decided to move with another soldier to an apartment outside of the base in Watertown, New York.
“I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea,” said Judy. “It didn’t make sense. He’d be going in a few months anyway. I know I was a protective mother, but I just wanted him to stay on the ground.”
Judy told Dateline that Patrick had dinner with his roommate on the evening of March 15, 2007. His roommate decided he wanted to go to the tanning salon and her son wanted to go back to the apartment, so Patrick went in that direction. When his roommate came home, Patrick was not there.
According to Watertown Police reports, Patrick was discovered a few hours later at 9 p.m. in a bar called “Clueless” on Arsenal Street. At around 1 a.m., he left the bar alone, police witnesses said. It was the last time anyone saw him alive.
Judy told Dateline that no one had heard from Patrick all weekend, and the following Monday his supervisor called Judy and her ex-husband, saying that Patrick was missing.
An official report of missing persons was then submitted to the Watertown Police Department by the family, who worked with the military to launch their own investigation. But the investigation soon went cold and there was no sign of Patrick.
On September 16, 2007, exactly six months before Patrick’s disappearance, a farmer who cut hay in a field in Jefferson County found the soldier’s skeletal remains. The location of Patrick’s remains was about five miles from the bar where he was last seen, Judy said to Dateline.
DNA testing confirmed that the remains belonged to Patrick, according to Jefferson County’s Sheriff’s Office. A memorial service was held at Arlington National Cemetery in October 2007.
A subsequent autopsy in Washington, DC, was unable to determine the cause or type of death, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. However, the authorities found the case suspicious and continued to investigate.
In 2010, when the investigators had no answers to Patrick’s family, Judy hired private investigator Dennis Griffin.
Griffin said Dateline, when Patrick’s remains were found, his dog tags were missing. He had $ 80 in cash in his pocket, a clue, Griffin believes, that Patrick wasn’t robbed. He said Patrick’s gloves were in his pockets as well, which makes him think that Patrick didn’t walk into an empty field that night with supposedly 18-degree weather.
“I think he was picked up from the bar,” said Griffin, “and something bad happened after that.”
After 10 years of investigations, Griffin thinks he knows who was involved in Patrick’s death, but nothing led to an arrest at that point.
“There are people who need to be interviewed,” said Griffin. “I’m pretty sure there is someone who has the information we need. And it could be a little bit to break this case.”
Detective Aaron House of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office did not comment on Dateline about potential people interested in Patrick’s case, but said that the case is now only fully handled by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Detective House, who took over the case two years ago, informed Dateline that they are still actively investigating.
“We are still checking every incoming tip and hope that someone will come back with information,” said Det. House.
The detective told Dateline that he planned to meet Patrick’s mother Judy in March to discuss new information, but said the coronavirus pandemic delayed their meeting.
Judy told Dateline that she would not stop fighting to find answers to her son’s death. Over the years, she has published hundreds of leaflets in northern New York, set up a Facebook page called “SGT Patrick Rust’s Mysterious Death,” and continues to stay in touch with investigators about possible clues.
“I won’t give up,” said Judy. “Someone knows something about what happened to him. We just have to keep going. “
Judy told Dateline that she kept a poster-sized photo of her son in Afghanistan in her living room. Next to the photo is a plaque commemorating Patrick’s fellow soldiers, who describes him as a true warrior and states that true warriors “never leave a fallen comrade behind”.
Judy often reads these words as she continues to search for answers.
Anyone with information about Patrick’s case is requested to call the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office at 315-786-2676 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.