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MIA

The disappearance of Kyle Fleischmann captures Charlotte's imagination

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About 3,900 people were reported missing to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police in 2006. Of those, three were found killed. Do you remember their names? Chances are, if you weren't a friend of those victims -- two black males, one white female -- you don't. But you probably know the name of Kyle Fleischmann.

Fleischmann, the 24-year-old Dane Cook fan who disappeared after leaving the Buckhead Saloon downtown in the early morning of Nov. 9, has had his face plastered on what seems like every bulletin board, every utility pole, every bar bathroom wall in town. Attractive, middle-class, educated and white, Fleischmann's face has been flashed on monitors at Charlotte Bobcats games and his smile displayed at drivers from donated billboard space near I-85.

And that's just locally. A Facebook account set up in his honor had more than 33,000 members by Nov. 16. Greta Van Susteren, America's Most Wanted and Larry King -- among others -- all have at least mentioned Kyle's case on their shows.

And, at least by press time, he still has not been located.

Daniel Scagnelli, a 23-year-old sales representative who's organized much of the online efforts to find Fleischmann, suspects Fleischmann was abducted. "The guy didn't have beefs with anyone," Scagnelli says. And if Fleischmann had, Scagnelli would probably know: After meeting as freshmen at Elon University, the two joined the same Kappa Alpha Order fraternity together. Just this year, Kyle was best man at Scagnelli's wedding. "Kyle's just a real outgoing, nice generous guy," says Scagnelli. "He makes friends easily."

Could that friendliness have led to his disappearance? Fleischmann's Thursday night had started off innocently enough. He'd organized friends to see Dane Cook at the Bobcats Arena. Afterward, they headed to Buckhead, where they also were celebrating the birthdays of two friends. Jason Benoit, a 23-year-old fraternity brother, says they were drinking beer and doing some shots. The tab climbed, but gradually people drifted home; the next day was a workday. Kyle stayed behind.

At 2:20 a.m., a video camera captured him leaving alone in a short-sleeved shirt. He'd left his black peacoat behind, as well as the credit cards that friends say was the only money he had on him. By midday Friday, his friends realized Fleischmann hadn't come home. His car was still parked outside the home of Scagnelli, who had hung out with him at Buckhead. He hadn't gone to work, and he hadn't called his parents.

That was unusual: Fleischmann had good relationships with his parents, and his mom was scheduled to have breast cancer surgery in a week.

There had been speculation that Fleischmann may have gone to a party at a Holiday Inn. What people do know is that he tried to call friends at 3:28 a.m. and 3:29 a.m. No one answered. At least one of those calls was picked up by a cell tower near Seigle Avenue and Tenth Street, leading people to believe he must've been somewhere nearby. In fact, that's where the closest lead came from. Search dogs picked up Kyle's scent Nov. 14 near the Alpha Mills apartments on Twelfth Street. Or so they thought -- the next day, after more hours of fruitless searching, Scagnelli wasn't so optimistic. "We're not sure what it really was," he says. "According to the dog people, there is a scent."

If there were no obvious leads, it wasn't for lack of trying -- or a lack of a well-organized network. The family offered up to $10,000 for information that revealed his locations. On Facebook, people were offering nuts-and-bolts support as well as more ambitious ideas. One person posted about parents who knew a state senator. Another knew a relative of Gov. Mike Easley. What could they do to help? Someone e-mailed Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Another e-mailed Vice President Dick Cheney. People were posting conspiracy theories: Could Kyle's disappearance be linked to an Iowa man who disappeared after leaving a Buckhead Saloon in Indianapolis? That man, too, was college-aged, and good-looking.

All their efforts -- fliers, the private investigators Fleischmann's family hired when cops didn't immediately jump on the case -- have required money. By the evening of Nov. 15, the search effort had raised about $16,000, and Tilt on Trade Street was scheduled to raise money on Nov. 16.

Fleischmann's family and friends haven't wanted to comment publicly on their initial frustrations with police response. "Now they're on top of it," Kyle's father, Richard Fleischmann, said Nov. 13 at a search gathering.

But several did so privately in conversations and on postings online. CMPD didn't post Kyle's profile on its missing person's page until nearly a week after he disappeared. By then, the man's face was on billboards.

The police, for their part, have been hamstrung: without initial signs of foul play, they were limited in what they could do. An adult is free to go missing if he wants. But now police are actively involved. "We're leaving every possibility on the table," said CMPD spokeswoman Julie Hill.

And, Hill says, maybe the Fleischmann case will help other missing persons. CMPD has several dozen cases they're currently seeking information on: Some cases on their missing person's page involve people who've been missing since 1975. Maybe someone with an interest in the Fleischmann case will look at this information and remember seeing one of the people profiled. "They might see somebody else," Hill says.

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