Cryptic messages and a California baptism: what happened to Ryan Robichaud?

It's a case that involves sporadic phone calls from Boston and Los Angeles, a surprise baptism at a California church and cryptic phrases like "the voices won't let me." Burlington, Ont.'s Tracy Robichaud just wants her son home.

A baptism, a missed plane and cryptic phone calls to a worried mother

Ryan Robichaud, 23, of Burlington, Ontario has been missing since January in a bizarre case that involves a car crash and phone calls talking about "voices." (Tracy Robichaud)

Tracy Robichaud's voice is heavy with sadness and fear. 

Her son, Ryan Robichaud of Burlington, Ont., has been missing for three months in a bizarre case that started with a car crash and involves numerous baffling messages and leads from across the United States. Her next stop? To fly to California to search for herself.

He's not used to living this life on the streets. He has a home with a family.- Tracy Robichaud

She's received sporadic phone calls from places like a Staples store in Los Angeles, and a Hilton hotel in Boston.

Those have included cryptic phrases like "the voices won't let me," and a surprise baptism at a Huntington Beach church.

She's ready for it to end.

"I'm just so afraid for him," she said. "I'm a mom. I want to make sure he's eating. I want to make sure he's OK. I want to know he's safe."

As recently as December, Ryan was an ordinary 23-year-old. He liked to snow board and rock climb. He worked hard at the Sobey's warehouse in Milton. He had no history of mental health issues, his mother said. He was just "happy."

(Tracy Robichaud)

On Dec. 31, around 1 a.m., Ryan was driving in Lowville when his car left the road and crashed into a tree. It's a remote area with few places to go for help, Tracy said. So he walked 14 kilometres home to Burlington.

He got home around 5 a.m., when his brother took him to Joseph Brant Hospital, Tracy said. Ryan appeared to have only minor injuries, so he was quickly sent home.

Tracy thinks there was more to it. She believes he suffered an undiagnosed head injury, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Because he was never quite the same after that.

On Jan. 15, Tracy arrived home to find the place "ransacked." Ryan was gone. He called her four days later from a Hilton hotel in a Boston suburb, Tracy said, and "it was scary."

"Mom, I needed to hear your voice," he said.

"I needed to hear your voice," she responded.

Her son said people could hear his thoughts, and that he'd tried to call numerous times, but "they wouldn't let it go through." He told her he'd died in the crash that day.

"I look in the mirror and I see Ryan, but my brain isn't working like it used to," he told her.

A higher power was guiding him, he said. Tracy, tearful and scared, said he should follow that higher power home.

Ryan was supposed to drive home using an Enterprise rental car, and for a day, Tracy waited for the car to arrive. Then she found out he'd dropped off the car before he ever left Boston. He'd apparently gone to the Boston train station, but he never did arrive in Burlington.

Days later, he called from a Staples store in Los Angeles, again saying that he needed to hear her voice.

"You're scaring me," she said. "How did you get there?"

Ryan said he didn't know.

(Tracy Robichaud)

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) picked him up, and dropped him off at LAX on Jan. 25 hours before Ryan's scheduled flight home. Ryan tried to call Tracy collect four times, but Tracy's cell phone provider doesn't support that service, so she didn't get them.

She waited for hours at the airport. "Finally I went to customs and said 'Ryan Robichaud was supposed to have gotten off this plane from LAX.' They said he didn't."

With that, she said, the panic set in for real. "I lost it."

The Los Angeles Times says the LAPD was investigating a case of identity theft involving Ryan's credit card. The card was used at a string of LA-area businesses, including a tattoo parlor and a furniture store. But surveillance footage shows that none of the people using the card were Ryan. The paper says the status of that investigation is unknown.

In the past few weeks, there have been a few more leads. On Feb.15, Ryan appeared to use a Chase bank ATM in Huntington Beach with his last credit card to take out $43 — the last money he had left.

He was also baptized at a Huntington Beach church, which Tracy knows because she got the certificate in the mail. The pastor told her Ryan looked weathered and much lighter than his usual 140 pounds. He had only a backpack and a roll-up mat with him.

I know what my son looks like. Even 40 pounds lighter. I know his eyes. His mouth. His nose.- Tracy Robichaud

Tracy says there's no chance he's doing this consciously, on his own. She believes it's something more.

"I'm afraid he doesn't remember anything," said Tracy, who is on temporary leave from work. "I'm afraid it's going to get worse if it's untreated.

"He's not used to living this life on the streets. He has a home with a family. He was confused when I spoke to him last. How do you not know you've traveled 3,000 miles?"

Police in Westminster, Calif. are investigating and are accepting tips at 714-548-3815, the Times says. Halton police aren't investigating, but tweeted on Jan. 25 that Ryan had contacted family via a phone call from Los Angeles. 

Tracy's friend has set up a gofundme campaign to raise money to help with the investigation. As soon as Tracy can afford a ticket, she's flying to LA herself.

"I know what my son looks like," she said. "Even 40 pounds lighter. I know his eyes. His mouth. His nose."

"He's such a pleasant boy. He's caring. I just love him and miss him so much."


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