2013-01-18 / Front Page

Middle chapters of Sarles’ death remain unwritten

By TIM GULLA Ledger Staff Writer tim@gaffneyledger.com

GREGORy SARLES GREGORy SARLES Diane Sarles of Charlotte has plans for this weekend that no mother would ever want to make.

She plans to hang posters around several Charlotte neighborhoods where her son had friends and acquaintances in the hopes that someone will come forward with information that could lead police to her son’s killer.

The death of Gregory Ryan Sarles is a tale that begins in Charlotte and ends in Blacksburg. It’s the chapters in between, however, that still have to be written.

Diane Sarles is not alone in her belief that there are people who can fill in those chapters. So too is Det. Harvey Owens of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, who has been making repeated trips to North Carolina over the past few months to interview people who knew Sarles. But it’s not just outof towners who know something that could help, Owens believes. He believes there’s a witness, or witnesses, in the Blacksburg area who can provide vital information, too.

The current working theory of police is that Sarles, 23, left Charlotte on March 28, 2012, with another known individual and came to the area of Jordan Lane and Burnt Mill Road in Blacksburg. Sarles left his vehicle behind in Charlotte.

The following morning Sarles’ body was found near a small pond, known locally as Stump Pond, off Burnt Mill Road. He had been shot multiple times, although investigators won’t say exactly how many times or where in his body he was struck.

Based on the method of the killing, though, Owens described it as “a very personal act.”

Investigators ruled out robbery as a motive, since Sarles still had cash on him. Rather, investigators are looking into the possibility the killing was somehow retaliatory in nature.

One of the most difficult days she’s ever had, Diane said, was the day police escorted her to Stump Pond to show her where her son had died. She and her family hung a poster at the scene, as high as possible in a tree to make it difficult for anyone to pull it down, to not only mark the spot but plead for help.

The Sarles family, orginally from New York, moved to Charlotte only about three months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2011. It was a hectic and stressful time then with fears of more attacks, Diane recalled. When an opportunity to relocate presented itself, the family jumped at the chance.

Gregory, who was an 8th grader at the time, had been an honor student and athlete in New York. But the adjustment and the culture shock impacted him greatly.

“He had a tough time,” Diane said. “His grades plummeted. We tried our best to keep his feet planted and out of trouble.”

The family decided to pull him out of public school and place him in a private school, Diane said, but they were unable to keep him there for financial reasons. Gregory ultimately went to an alternative school to complete his high school education. Diane thinks that’s when Gregory was introduced to marijuana.

“I didn’t know all the details of what he was doing,” she said. “But I was smart enough to know he wasn’t making good choices.”

Just a few days before his murder, Diane said she had a heart-to-heart talk with her son. “I wanted him to make good choices. He really wanted to turn things around and was making better choices.”

But for whatever reason, the last night he was seen alive, he drove away from Charlotte in another person’s vehicle and ended up in Blacksburg — a place he had no connection to whatsoever as far as the family could tell.

Some time before he died, he reportedly sent a text message to an acquaintance.

The message, which could not be confirmed, read something along the lines of “It’s real shady here and I want to get out of here.”

No, Diane concedes, her son wasn’t perfect. But as a child he always saw the best in other people, she said. That never changed as he grew up, she said.

“Your biggest fear as a parent is something happening to your children,” she said.

Sometimes, she concedes, she questions, “What if we’re like the many families who never get resolution? What if that happens to us?”

Owens has no intention of letting that happen.

“We feel this is a very solvable case,” he said. In addition to turning towards North Carolina for new leads and new witnesses, Owens said, “We feel there are individuals in the Burnt Mill, Jordan Lane area who possibly saw the victim, or the vehicle, or both, and do not realize they have vital information to this case.”

It’s possible, Owens said, that Gregory Sarles may have come to the Blacksburg area in a goldcolored 4-door 2001 GMC Yukon.

“We just need that one person who we know is out there who is going to have some information about (Sarles) being in that Jordan Lane, Burnt Mill area to come forward,” Owens said.

Anyone with information can call the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office at 864-489-4722, or Crime Stoppers of Cherokee County at 1-888-CRIMESC.

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