RANKIN COUNTY, MS (WLBT) - The disappearance of Skyler “Sky” Burnley of Rankin County is baffling. His family has been desperate to find him, and investigators have been trying to figure out what happened to him. Two and a half years after his disappearance, there could be new leads in the case.
Burnley, who was 27 when he disappeared, spent the night of June 2, 2016, at the home of Travis Brewer, Amanda Morris and their young daughter in a small subdivision off Greenfield Road near Whitfield. Family members say he was living with his grandmother at the time, and called her that night to let her know he wouldn’t be back until morning.
On the morning of June 3, Rankin County sheriff’s investigators say Brewer told Burnley that someone had taken Brewer’s truck. Brewer said his cell phone was still inside the truck, and he’d used an app to track it to a wooded area east of Brandon. He asked Burnley to go with him to find it.
Later that morning, surveillance video from a gas station on Greenfield Road shows the two men, along with Brewer’s child, stop for snacks in a small black sedan. Brewer told investigators that Morris was also in the car, and that they continued to the wooded area east of Brandon after stopping at the store.
What happened in the woods remains a mystery. Brewer claims that once they arrived at the area where he’d tracked the phone, he started walking in one direction and Burnley in another. When Brewer went back to the car to take the others back home, he said Burnley was nowhere to be found.
After midnight early the next morning, Brewer called 911. Investigators say he spent most of his time talking about the truck and mentioned Burnley toward the end of the call.
“Me and my buddy go over there to see if we could find the truck," he tells the 911 operator in a recording of the call provided by the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department. "He walked off to one side of the road. That was at 10:00 this morning. I walked off to the other side of the road. And he’s been gone ever since. I ain’t been able to find him. I’ve been everywhere looking for him. I can’t find him.”
Brewer also left a note at the home of Burnley’s uncle, where family members say he had once helped Burnley work on a car.
The note, written in pencil, says, “Travis, Sky’s friend. He is missing. I’m worried something bad has happened.” Two phone numbers were written on the note.
Burnley’s father, Glen, called the numbers after reading the note and spoke with Brewer. He says Brewer indicated that he was worried and asked if the father wanted to go to the area to help him look some more.
“I said, well, instead of me going down there with you and hollering in the woods, I need to get on the phone and call the authorities,” Glen Burnley recalls. “So I did. I reached out and called Rankin County Sheriff’s Department, and they came to the house and stayed several hours.”
The sheriff’s department soon saturated the woods, looking for any sign of Sky Burnley.
“We spent more resources in that patch of woods than I’ve ever seen us spend on any other missing person," said Rankin County Undersheriff Raymond Duke. "We did that because we had good information that he was, in fact, in that patch of woods at one time.”
Their search coming up empty, investigators went the Brewer home to look for clues. Duke says they returned numerous times, at one point arresting both Brewer and Morris on misdemeanor drug charges. Duke says the couple claimed everyone had been smoking meth on the day Burnley disappeared, but they insisted they had no idea what happened to him in the woods.
“Both agreed to take the polygraph,” Duke said. “Our in-house polygrapher stated that with Travis Brewer, there was some deception in his answers... meaning he was, according to the polygrapher, not 100 percent truthful in his answers.”
The cell phone that Brewer had said he tracked to the wooded area was later found discarded near Brewer’s home, casting doubt on his explanation for going to the wooded area in the first place. It was also one of the reasons Duke believes Brewer knows more than he is saying.
“I believe he knows what happened to Skyler.”
When 3 On Your Side went to Brewer’s home in early February, a black sedan and a pickup truck were parked outside. When we knocked, only barking dogs responded from inside.
Glen Burnley thinks about his son every day. He and wife Vicky, Sky’s stepmother, last saw him two days before he disappeared.
“He had a great heart," the father says. "Loved children. Loved baseball.”
He and his wife say Burnley had had drug problems in the past and had served time in jail, where they say he was forced to join a gang, the Simon City Royals, just to survive. They say he was trying to get out of the gang and report illegal activity he had witnessed.
“He was going to report that to the sheriff’s department, but before he did, I guess somebody found out he was going to rat on the network there and the folks involved,” says his father. “And he ended up dead.”
Both Glen Burnley and the sheriff’s department believe Brewer took Sky to the woods for a reason other than to find his truck.
“My theory is that he took Skyler to that patch of woods and that he was possibly following orders,” Duke says. “We believe it might be gang-related. That’s a theory. We can’t prove that at this time.”
The potential gang and drug connection has led investigators to what they say could be a break in the case, though they are not offering many details.
“I feel like we’re getting real close, very close," says Gerrad Bacon, who is the county’s lead investigator on the case, working with another investigator with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. “We did go to another county that gave us indications of something that, in my opinion, since I’ve been working some leads since October 2017, it sounds more concrete and believable."
Whatever that lead may be, Sky Burnley’s family is hopeful for some closure.
“I didn’t give birth to him, but I loved him so much,” says Vicky Burnley. “For his brother and sister, and his mom and dad -- the agony. This is different than having a child that dies. This is probably a child that’s died that you have no idea if he suffered, how much agony he went through, how much pain they put him through. And the only way we’re going to have peace is to know what happened and find him and bring him home."
“Somebody knows something,” she continued. “Somebody has heard something. It’ll be three years June 3rd. I don’t care how little you think you know, how much you think you know, the littlest thing may be the very thing that we need.”
“Travis is not smart enough to pull off what happened here,” says Glen Burnley. “Somebody masterminded this whole thing, and whoever did it was very intelligent and had a lot of pull.”
He also had this message for Travis Brewer: “Whoever you’re scared of and you’re covering up for, you just don’t understand the wrath of a father whose son has been taken from him.”
A $12,500 reward is being offered for information on what happened to Sky Burnley. If you have a tip, call Crimestoppers at (601) 355-TIPS.