On May 10, 2010, Derek Ryan Funk, 19, left the home of a friend in Powell, climbed into his white Ford Ranger pickup truck, and started on the 15-mile drive to his home on Coffman Street in South Knoxville.
He has not been seen since.
“We suspect foul play,” said Knoxville Police Department Investigator Phyllis Tonkin.
Last week, Funk’s parents, Kevin and Tricia Funk of Oak Ridge, decided their reward offer of $5,000 will be increased to $10,000, effective immediately.
“We hope this will be a factor in bringing someone forward who knows something,” Kevin Funk said. “It’s an added incentive for someone to talk.”
The reward is for information leading to his whereabouts, the location of his body or the conviction of anyone responsible for his absence. The offer remains valid through May 12, 2012.
The last person known to have seen and spoken with Derek Funk is his Powell friend, Lauren Owings.
She has told Funk’s parents and police that shortly after Funk left her to go home she called him on his cellphone. They talked for several minutes, then Derek said he felt tired, needed to concentrate on his driving and ended the conversation.
“When she called him back, it went straight to voice mail,” Tricia Funk said.
Derek Funk was friendly, considerate of others and had no known enemies, according to Tonkin, Funk’s friends and his parents. But Tonkin’s investigation turned up something unknown to his parents.
“We have determined that Derek had used drugs, to some extent,” she said. “And we believe that drugs may have something to do with his disappearance.”
“That was a shock to us,” Kevin Funk said.
Derek was mature for his age, his father said. For one so young, he was off to a good start on adult life. He had an option to buy the house he was renting. His welding skills landed him a job at East Tennessee Railcar Services. Co-owner Chris Williams described Funk as reliable, hardworking and diligent.
His work ethic was matched by a free spirit. At Oak Ridge High School, he was a skateboarder, and he once dyed his hair blue, the same color as his eyes. He declined to enter a gifted students program for which he qualified.
“He just wasn’t interested in that; he always wanted to be a welder,” Kevin Funk said. “He always had a knack for mechanical and technical things.”
More than a dozen tattoos were arrayed along Derek’s wiry 5-foot-10-inch frame. None suggests gang or cult connections, Tonkin said. Instead, they likely reflect an independent streak, as well as creative bent that also showed itself in artwork he was creating with his welding skills.
The tattoos include a wing above each elbow and a five-pointed star below each elbow. Each upper inner arm has a four-pointed star, and each inner wrist has black and red pinstripes.
On his left outer arm is a yin symbol, dead fish, the word “death” and a Cry Later theatrical face. The right outer arm has a light yang symbol, live fish, the word “Life,” Laugh Now theatrical face and a gun.
The words “Never Give Up” are on his stomach, the word “courage” on his right side.
There is a rose, wine and skull on the side of his right leg and a four-leaf clover on the top of his right foot.
Derek’s personal life was in transition. He and his girlfriend of several years, Dominique Fails, had just broken up. But she was staying at his house while she looked for a place of her own.
Fails has told police and Derek’s parents that he never got home that night.
“When he didn’t show up for work and we couldn’t reach him, (we knew) something was wrong,” said Williams. “That was eerie, so out of character for him. But when he didn’t even come by to pick up a last paycheck, that was downright chilling. We sure would like to know what happened.”
There has been no sighting of Funk’s truck, and no activity on his credit cards, bank account or cellphone. A search of his house revealed no signs of a struggle, Tonkin said.
Cellphone records confirm a call from Owings’ phone to Funk’s cellphone shortly after he was reported to have left her home. The ping was off a tower near the Walmart on Clinton Highway.
Attempts by the News Sentinel to interview Owings and Fails were unsuccessful.
There is some uncertainty over the license plate number on Funk’s truck. Most likely, it is 422-HHJ. But there could be a mix-up because of a three-way vehicle swap involving the truck, Kevin Funk said.
Tonkin said she and other investigators working the case have developed “some theories” about what happened to Funk, based on evidence and statements collected so far.
When asked about a suspect, Tonkin said: “There are some persons of interest. Some of them have been cleared. Some of them have not.” She declined to elaborate.
Since Derek Funk disappeared, his parents’ lives have been marked by a cruel combination of uncertainty and despair.
“If there is foul play, I would like to see justice, but I’m not out for revenge,” Kevin Funk said. “Alive or not, we just want our son back. I only have a glimmer of hope now (that he is alive). We feel like he is in God’s hands.”
“Not knowing where he is or what happened to him, that is the worst part of all of this,” Tricia Funk said. “And if somebody has done something to Derek, I would like to see justice done for him. And I would not want another parent to have to go through what we have been going through.”
Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the KPD tip hot line, 865-215-7217 .
Jim Balloch may be reached at 865-342-6357 .