SPEARFISH –– The pain a mother feels when she’s lost a child is unrelenting, particularly when the child has been missing for nearly 13 years with no answers about what happened to him.
Clinton Devon Nelson vanished Sept. 1, 2006, after leaving a friend’s home in Princeton, La. He was 21 at the time.
Carolyn Teigen, Nelson’s mother, recently returned from one of dozens of trips she’s taken to Louisiana to search for her son.
During the three-day trip, she filled her time with speaking to the media, hanging up missing person posters, communicating with law enforcement about any updates related to the case.
“No matter what happened that night, he doesn’t deserve to just vanish … and not have a final resting place and not be able to come home,” Teigen said.
Nearly 13 years and five detectives assigned to Nelson’s case later, his family still has no answers.
She described the journey Wednesday in an exclusive interview with the Pioneer.
Teigen started by describing her son when he was a youngster.
Nelson was a thrill seeker as a child.
“He was my no fear kid,” Teigen said. “He was the kid that would rollerblade off of the steps on the deck.”
Often ending up in the emergency room, Nelson grew a tolerance to injuries caused by his antics.
“When he was in third-grade, he’d had stitches so many times that he just told them (the hospital staff), ‘Oh, don’t even numb it up, just sew it up,’” Teigen said. “He wasn’t afraid of anything, he just went out and enjoyed life.”
But Nelson had a tender side, too.
“He’s my really compassionate kid,” Teigen said, adding that Nelson’s teachers would remark to her about how he would intentionally partner up with children with special needs during school activities and give them a helping hand.
“(His teachers) said, ‘You can teach a person to get smarter, but you can’t teach a person to be compassionate,’” she said. “And Clinton has compassion for other people.”
Nelson was also good at making people laugh.
“It used to drive me crazy because whenever I was mad at him, he would always do something that would make me crack up laughing,” Teigen said. “Which made disciplining him very ineffective.”
He was often making his mother laugh.
“I think that’s probably what I miss the most about him – his laugh, and his sense of humor, and his big hugs,” Teigen said.
The family moved to Spearfish in 1986 when Nelson was 1-year-old and lived there all of his life until he moved to Louisiana in April 2006 to spend time with his father.
Prior to going to Louisiana, his mom said that Nelson made some bad choices and was struggling with figuring out who he was and what he wanted for his life. She was filled with mixed emotions about her son being far away from her.
“I started having a lot of anxiety prior to him leaving about being afraid I would never see him again,” she said.
With his truck packed, and excited about what lay ahead, Nelson’s leaving day came quickly. He stopped by Teigen’s work to say goodbye.
“I remember as he was driving away thinking, ‘I’m never going to see my kid again,’” she said. “I don’t know why I felt that way, I just felt like something wasn’t right.”
But Nelson was 20 years old, an adult able to make choices for his life, and Teigen didn’t feel like she should hold him back.
“I know that I can’t protect him from everything,” she said.
But she knew Nelson needed change, so she evoked some age-old wisdom.
“Everyone always says, if a kid goes down the wrong path, you get them on the right path, and you get them away from the influences that are taking him down that path,” Teigen said. “From that standpoint, I thought it would maybe help him to find that piece of himself that he was missing — getting to know his biological father.”
Five months later, Nelson was gone.
Mother’s intuition broke the news to Teigen before she got the call about her son’s disappearance.
“I’ve believed that he was not alive from the beginning,” she said. “As crazy at it sounds, I felt it.”
Assuming that she was overreacting and being overprotective, Teigen tried to push the anxious worry out of her mind.
“I felt I needed to just let him grow up (and that) everything would be OK,” she said.
But her intuition was correct.
Around 10 p.m. on the evening Nelson disappeared, Teigen said, she was overcome with a dark, heavy feeling that alerted her that something was amiss.
“I talked myself out of calling Clinton because I thought I was being overprotective,” she said.
Two days later, Teigen got a call from Nelson’s father.
“And he said, ‘Have you talked to Clinton?’” she said. “And I said, ‘No, what’s wrong?’”
He told Teigen that their son vanished after he never returned home from a party.
Much to the parents’ dismay, law enforcement would not take a missing persons report for two more days.
A few days later, Teigen spoke to the detective assigned to the case at that time. She said the detective told her that it was his belief that Nelson was “Just a boy, and probably shacked up with some girl, and he would turn up.”
A torrent of emotions and struggle for Nelson’s family had been triggered.
“I don’t know where that information came from, but it started a whole series of unanswered questions and rumors and speculation and hearing awful things,” Teigen said.
It would take law enforcement around a-year-and-a-half to come around to the idea that Nelson had most likely met with foul play, she said.
Around a month after Nelson’s disappearance, his mom traveled to Louisiana to search for him. She’d reached out to the Texas EquuSearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team, an organization that provides volunteer horse-mounted search and recovery services to assist with locating missing persons. The organization traveled to Louisiana to coordinate a search party and assist in the search for Nelson.
They assembled with volunteers, horses, cadaver dogs, and drones and searched a several-mile radius around the area where Nelson was last known to be.
The rural Louisiana terrain, full of trees, shrubs, and wetlands, was especially difficult to search.
“It’s very thick, it’s very hard to get around,” Teigen said. “There’s places where you couldn’t even walk through the brush because it was so thick.”
Nelson was nowhere to be found, and that would turn out to be the first of many searches for him.
For the first several years following her son’s disappearance, Teigen traveled to search for Nelson three to four times a year. She hung posters, spoke to media, communicated with law enforcement, anything she could think of to get the word out to the public to find her beloved boy.
Each year around Nelson’s birthday and the anniversary of his disappearance, which are separated by just a few weeks Teigen engages members of the media to keep his name in the hearts and minds of the pubic.
“I know that there are people that know what happened that night,” she said. “There are probably a few people that know where he was disposed of.”
Many rumors related to what happened to Nelson and how and where he was disposed of are widespread, but so far, nothing has led to his remains.
A mother’s plea
During her recent trip to Louisiana, Teigen spoke to the detective currently working Nelson’s case and learned that law enforcement has identified a new person of interest and that criminal charges may be leveled in the near future.
“For me, it’s about bringing Clinton home,” she said. “It’s not about necessarily getting somebody in trouble.”
If Nelson was murdered, Teigen said, those responsible deserve whatever punishment they receive. But in speaking with law enforcement, she said, she’s given them permission to offer immunity in exchange for telling them where Nelson’s body can be located.
“It’s God’s place to judge, it’s not my place to judge,” she said.
Teigen said that a number of those thought to have been involved or having information about what happened to Nelson are now parents themselves.
“I would just ask them to think about what they would want if they were in my shoes and what they would do to try to find their loved one,” she said. “And do the right thing. To have mercy on a family that has exhausted ourselves with trying to find him, bring him home, find out what happened.”
A piece of him left behind
Six weeks after Nelson vanished without a trace, his son Austin was born in Spearfish.
Teigen met her grandson the day after his birth and regularly babysat the child that would appear to be her last piece of Nelson.
Turning 13 in October, Nelson’s son reminds Teigen of his father.
“He’s just a very kind, good-natured sweetheart of a kid,” she said. “A typical boy – he likes to game, ride his bike, and skateboard — all those fun things.”
The pair look similar, too.
“He looks a great deal like Clinton; I have pictures of the two of them, and you can’t tell them apart in the picture,” Teigen said.
Her grandson and daughter have given Teigen the strength to keep fighting, even when she was ready to give up.
“I’ve found a reason to keep going and to try to reveal the truth so that our family can find some peace in this whole situation,” she said. “For me, it’s always just been about trying to find out what really happened and being able to answer his son’s questions about why he’s not here and trying to bring him home.”
Can you help?
At the time of his disappearance, Nelson was 6 feet, 1 inch tall and 160 pounds with strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing a black ECKO brand T-shirt, blue jeans, a black knit cap, white DC shoes with red trim, and glasses with round silver wire frames.
There is a cash reward offered to anyone who has information that leads to the arrest of the person or people responsible.
If you have information about Nelson’s disappearance, contact Justin Banet, with the Bossier Sheriff’s Office, at (318) 965-3417 or the We Help The Missing Tipline at (866) 660-4025. According to Nelson’s missing poster, tips may remain anonymous.
Aug. 9 would mark Nelson’s 35th birthday.
“I’m not sure that I believe in closure anymore, but knowing what happened and where he is will at least allow me to stop going on a body watch every time remains are found and wondering if it’s Clinton,” Teigen said. “It will allow me to get to a point of starting to heal.”
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