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Nashville mom learns long-lost son buried in potter's field 3 miles from home

A mother’s long search for her son ended when DNA tests showed that he had been buried in an unnamed plot in a public Nashville cemetery after being murdered in a horrific unsolved attack in 1998.

Sylvia Nolan only recently received confirmation her son LeRyan Nicholson had been buried in a pauper’s cemetery just three miles from her home, according to the local paper, The Tennessean. While the development brought long-awaited closure, it provided no answers as to what exact fate befell the boy, a once promising student and athlete whose life seemed to unravel in his late teens.

Born on Oct. 5, 1979, LeRyan was quiet, but sweet, Nolan told the paper. As he grew older, he became highly protective of his little sister, Ameera El, and his stepsister, Candace Williams, she said. But when he entered high school and found running, that quiet, sweet boy came out of his shell.

“As a freshman, he won the city championship in the mile and half-mile, top five in the district and region as a freshman," Principal Billy Fellman, then a teacher and coach at Pearl-Cohn High School, told the newspaper. "He was just a natural talent.”

But in the following years, he changed. After he stopped going to school, LeRyan began to show signs of having a mental illness and later moved out of his mother’s house, Nolan said.

“It was like he was confused as he was talking. It didn’t make a lot of sense. Jumping from one thing to another, not completing a thought,” his stepsister, Candace, told The Tennessean.

During what would have been his senior year, he received his GED and vocational training from Job Corps, a voluntary boot-camp-like training program.  When he came home in 1997, his behavior got worse. At the age of 18, he had begun smoking and his hair started to turn gray, Nolan said.

“That’s when the nightmare started,” Nolan told the paper. “He was just not the same anymore.”

One day in April 1998, LeRyan had just simply left.  His mother filed a missing person’s report, but she was told that he probably wanted to go out on his own.

In May 1998, an unidentified man had been buried after having been found rolled up in a carpet, dumped against a fence and set on fire.  Burned beyond recognition, the police never put two-and-two together.

Meanwhile, LeRyan’s family searched fervently, checking hospitals and homeless shelters.  Many years passed.  In 2012, Candace Williams found a government website called NAMUS, which was a nationwide database for missing persons, unidentified remains and unclaimed bodies.

A search was done, unveiling a John Doe that had been killed around the time that LeRyan disappeared.  Candace immediately called the police, who obtained a DNA sample and matched it to one that was taken from John Doe.

“They told me they already buried my baby, my son, without me,” Nolan told The Tennessean.  

In May 2013, the unnamed headstone that marked her son’s grave was removed and a new one was put in its place.  

According to the newspaper, after it had been placed, Nolan patted the new headstone and whispered "Momma’s here."

Read the full story from The Tennessean.

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