“It has been a whirlwind”: Family speaks out after potential discovery of missing Houston County man

It’s been 28 years, nearly 3 decades of waiting, worrying and wondering for the family of James Aaron Toole, who disappeared after he left his home to visit a f
Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 7:03 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - It’s been 28 years, nearly 3 decades of waiting, worrying and wondering for the family of James Aaron Toole, who disappeared after he left his home to visit a friend in Florida.

Finally, after the breakthrough discovery in the Steinhatchee River on Wednesday that may finally bring home the man they knew as “Papa,” the grandchildren of Toole are speaking out about the first real evidence of what may have happened to him.

Mandy Morrow and Ashley Solomon are no strangers to the story of the search for Toole, the two coming to News4 in 2015 with the hope of one more plea for answers about what happened to their 72-year-old grandfather. They returned to WTVY’s studio on Friday, with the possible find of Toole shaping new feelings and thoughts.

After that last night Toole was seen on May 15, 1995, the only thing family members knew was he never arrived where he meant to go, he never called, and with a search that, for years, turned up nothing, he seemingly went where he would never be seen again.

It was a mystery Mandy and Ashley couldn’t shake as they grew older.

“Probably about 2008 and after, we did start to do interviews and partner with different organizations to find him,” Mandy said.

Now, decades later after years of searching, the two granddaughters may have answers.

“I think for me, it has been a whirlwind, a little bit...I am not sure I have processed entirely everything,” explained Mandy.

The two learned Wednesday about the potential discovery of their “Papa,” after Hurricane Idalia cleanup workers uncovered a submerged car while cleaning debris from the Big Bend waterway in Florida.

While investigators and family wait for DNA testing to come back to prove the remains found in that vehicle to be that of Toole, identifiable evidence and the car being the same as the one Toole was last known to be driving point to a potential reality.

While the discovery brings some comfort to Toole’s family, it also brings sadness.

“I think he was a good grandfather,” said Mandy.

“We are probably a little partial, but I would say he was the best,” said Ashley.

For the two granddaughters, even with the lingering uncertainty as they await DNA results, the discovery is paving the way for them to find peace.

“Closure is not a word I like, because it never goes away really, but having answers is always nice,” said Mandy.

Once DNA evidence confirms the likely identity of Toole, the next question the family will look to have answered will be how he ended up in the Steinhatchee River nearly three decades ago.

Until those questions are answered, Ashley and Mandy are just expressing their gratitude to those who have compassionately handled the case now and over the last several years.

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