An entire decade has passed since a devoted husband and father disappeared in Virginia. His daughter was only six years old at the time. In the 10 years he’s been gone, he’s missed countless birthdays, holidays, and milestones.
His wife, Tara, left heartbroken over her husband’s disappearance, told Dateline she was even more heartbroken over their daughter’s loss.
“She was so young when he went missing,” Tara said. “She doesn’t really remember him, and that’s what hurts most of all.”
Robert and his daughter.Tara Hourihan
Ten years have passed since Tara last laid eyes on her husband. Their daughter is now 16 years old. But Tara continues to pray for answers so she can finally have closure for her family.
“I wish I knew that was the last time I would have seen him,” Tara said, recalling the day her 33-year-old husband went missing. “I would have held onto him a little longer.”
Tara met Robert when they were both kids. They rode the school bus together and went to the same church. Robert was Tara’s first love. But he had no idea, until one Easter Sunday when the secret got out at church. He told her he wished he had known earlier, and promptly asked her on a date. They were together from that day on.
Years later, the morning of April 8, 2011 was just like any other, Tara thought. She said she woke up and started making her husband his coffee and lunch. She made sure Robert took his heart medication, as she did every morning. She said everything appeared normal as walked out of the house and headed off to work in Tara’s 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier.
But when Robert didn’t arrive home that evening, Tara knew something was wrong. Her calls and texts to his cell phone went unanswered. No one else had seen or heard from him all day either.
Tara told Dateline her husband is not a man who would leave his family and run off on his own. He also needed his medication for the heart condition and wouldn’t have left without it. But that wasn’t the only reason.
“His daughter was his whole world,” Tara said. “He would never, ever leave her. He wouldn’t just not come home.”
Tara filed a missing persons report and an investigation was launched by the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office. According to Major David Wells, an investigation revealed that Robert had been seen later that morning at the EW Thomas Grocery in Palmyra, Virginia at approximately 8 a.m. His last cell phone call was at 7:41 a.m., also in Palmyra.
What baffled Tara learning that, was that Palmyra is the opposite direction from her husband’s work in Richmond. Further investigation revealed that Robert had not been scheduled to work the day he vanished and instead was supposed to meet with a male acquaintance, but according to Major Wells, the investigation revealed he never made it to that meeting.
After weeks of searching, authorities located the Chevrolet Cavalier with the personalized license plates “TARAMAE” Robert had been driving when he went missing. It was found abandoned in a Target parking lot in La Plata, Maryland, more than 100 miles away from where Robert was last seen. Major Wells told Dateline some of his belongings, including his work tools and his work shirt, were inside the vehicle, but his cell phone was missing.
Searches were conducted in the area, but nothing led them to Robert. Major Wells said there are hours of camera footage of the vehicle in the parking lot, but because so much time had passed between Robert going missing and the car being located, the footage of the car around April 8 had already been recorded over.
Major Wells, who has been on the case since the beginning, told Dateline that foul play is suspected in Robert’s disappearance and authorities believe the person or persons involved were known acquaintances of Robert’s.
“We believe multiple parties were involved and have knowledge of what happened,” Major Wells said. “Someone out there knows something and the information could be the missing piece to the puzzle we need to put this together and figure out what happened to Rob. We’re hoping now that such much time has passed, someone will come forward.”
Robert’s wife Tara told Dateline she’s not only devastated, but angry that the people responsible for her husband’s disappearance are still walking free.
“He was a father, and a husband, and a brother – he was loved by so many,” Tara said. “The people who did this not only destroyed his life, he destroyed ours. And the idea that they could do this to another family is even more heartbreaking.”
Major Wells told Dateline he just wants to bring the family some answers and peace of mind after so many years of questions and confusion.
“This family has been through so much,” Major Wells said. “His daughter was so little when she lost her father – it’s heartbreaking. The least we could do is bring them closure.”
Robert and Tara’s daughter is now 16 years old. Tara said she has very little memory of her father and as the years pass without any answers, it becomes harder for both of them to get closure.
Robert and his family.Tara Hourihan
Within the past 10 years, Tara, who had to adapt to being a single mother, also took on the role of caretaker for her mother, and later her father, who have both since died.
“I’ve lost my husband and my mother and my father,” Tara told Dateline. “I’ve lost my whole family except for my daughter. And what’s worse is watching her experience so much loss in her short life.”
But when Tara looks at her daughter, she sees so much of her husband in her.
“She looks so much like him,” Tara added. “It’s like a piece of him is still with us and I’m thankful for that.”
Robert would be 43 years old today. At the time of his disappearance, he was approximately 5’8” to 5’11” tall and weighed approximately 200-250 lbs.