Thursday, August 3, 2017 was a warm day in Michigan. The sun shined down on the back of the neck of a thirty-one-year-old man leaving work in the town of Madison Heights. A Chinese symbol tattoo peeked out under his jaw line just above his red tee shirt. He slipped his phone in his pocket and left on foot, leaving Madison Heights and heading south toward State Fair Ave in Detroit. His phone would ping one last time in this area before going silent, never to be heard from again.
Donnie Ray Martin III was born on May 15, 1986 to Mr. Donnie Martin and Sherri Martin at the Oakwood General Hospital in Dearborn. He spent most of his life in Michigan, save for a few years in Florida with his father when he grew older, making the Great Lakes State his home for the majority of his life. He was an incredibly energetic child who loved Ghostbusters and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, collecting the action figures as often as he could and watching Saturday morning cartoons with his siblings.
“He was a joy,” describes Mr. Martin. “He made you smile. He was always busy, busy, busy.”
As he grew older, Donnie’s interests included sports and he began playing football. He played for years until a skateboard accident caused him to break his ankle, ending his ability to play his favorite game.
“He loved life,” Mr. Martin remembers. “He enjoyed it. He was so big-hearted. He was very giving, very compassionate, and he loved kids. He loved his nieces and nephews a lot.”
Three years after that hot August day, however, Donnie’s family is left with a confusing multitude of questions as to where their loved one is. After leaving work around 11 o’clock that morning, Donnie didn’t contact anyone and never made it home.
“When his girlfriend called and said he didn’t come home, something bad just washed right over me,” Mr. Martin says. “I felt it.”
Mr. Martin, who was visiting Michigan from Florida at the time, immediately went to the police department and filed two missing person’s reports: one in Oakland County, where Donnie was last seen, and one in Wayne County, where his phone last pinged. Flyers were created and distributed, Donnie’s case was featured on the news, and search parties began walking the streets of Detroit – Mr. Martin and his wife, Leslie, included.
Leslie Seay-Martin has some experience with missing persons herself. Her sister-in-law, Julie Braswell Seay, has been missing since December 23, 1988. She, too, disappeared after leaving from her work in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“Julie kind of paved the way for us to know [what to do] in this situation,” Leslie says.
Leslie first met Donnie in 2006 when she married Mr. Martin when Donnie was nineteen.
“He was hilarious,” she says. “A deep thinker. He was sensitive in a lot of ways, just what was going on around him.”
Leslie fondly recalls funny memories with her stepson, such as the time she visited Michigan and they sat on the front porch making up elaborate stories about one of the neighbors.
“He was so funny sometimes,” she remembers.
Donnie’s disappearance has inspired his sister, Angie, to take criminal justice classes to someday become a parole officer. She misses her little brother immensely — the sibling she took on a road trip to Florida when he was sixteen (“It was a crazy adventure!” she laughs) and who “gave the best hugs you ever got.”
“Anytime we were around each other we had a real good time,” she recalls. “He was a super nice guy. He was a super loveable person. He really loved my kids. He was so genuine.”
While the family held out hope in the beginning that Donnie was alive, they have now come to terms with the fact that he has likely passed away. He was extremely close with his mother, and day after day of no contact with her solidified their theory that the worst had occurred.
“He loved his mom,” Mr. Martin says. “That’s how we knew something was terribly wrong. He didn’t contact her on her birthday or any holiday. Absolutely nothing. We knew right away that wasn’t him.”
Mr. Martin holds onto cherished memories of taking his son to play football, or the time they ordered a 32” pizza and it took up the entire area of the stovetop. He relishes a particular memory when they were sitting on the couch discussing Donnie’s new job working with his sister and brother-in-law.
“Dad, this job is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world,” Donnie had said. “I love it. I love being in the outdoors. I guess I get that from you. I just love it. I just love being around my brother-in-law.”
Now, Mr. Martin takes his grandson to the same stadiums he had taken Donnie to as a child to play football. His grandchildren still point out Uncle Donnie’s room at the house and have not fully understood what has happened yet.
“My grandson still has a hard time wondering where he is,” Mr. Martin says. “They don’t talk about him in the past tense yet.”
The family is determined to bring their loved one home for a proper burial. They have not given up searching for three long years.
“We’re not going to stop until we find out what happened to him,” Angie asserts. “Somebody has to know. There’s somebody out there who knows. I’m determined to figure it out.”
Leslie has a deep faith and feels in her gut that her stepson was murdered.
“Why would it be so difficult to find his body?” she asks. “In the beginning you have this hope. Now we just want to bring him home.”
Donnie Martin has brown hair, blue eyes, a dermal piercing on his right cheek and a piercing in his left nostril. “Martin” is tattooed on his lower back, a Chinese symbol is tattooed on his neck, and the letter “D” is tattooed on his ring finger. If you have any information to his whereabouts, please contact the Madison Heights Police Department at 248-585-2100.