The holidays are meant to be a happy time filled with friends and family, but they can also bring up memories of loved ones lost.
For those who know and love Bruce Evans, this time of year means recalling the last moments they spent with their beloved brother, son and boyfriend—and wondering if he's still alive.
Evans was last seen leaving his Tucson home on Dec. 21, 2010, as he and a co-worker drove to Phoenix to conduct some business for the southside gun shop where Evans worked. He was supposed to be home that night.
When he didn't return, relatives filed a missing-person report with the Pima County Sheriff's Department.
Foul play is suspected, but no one has been arrested in connection with Evans' disappearance, according to sheriff's detectives.
Though he is still officially considered missing, Evans' family members aren't hopeful.
"We think he's dead," said Evans' sister, Jennifer Barris, last week. "He wouldn't just leave. He always told us that he couldn't leave again. He couldn't leave Mom again."
Barris, mother Rose Westmoreland and others commemorated the anniversary of Evans' disappearance by releasing red, heart-shaped "I Love You" balloons into the sky. Included with the balloons were the ashes of burned letters from friends and family members, Barris said—letters filled with "everything we never got to say to him."
"He was an awesome big brother," Barris said. "We miss him so much."
A native Tucsonan, Evans—who would have turned 38 last August—returned to Southern Arizona two years ago after living and working for several years in Arkansas, where he helped design and build handguns. The opportunity to come back to Tucson popped up in the fall of 2009, when Evans' then-wife, Monica, heard an acquaintance was looking for help opening a gun shop.
"Of course, he was all for that," Barris said. "He was looking for a reason to come back home."
But not long after Evans returned to Tucson, bad things started to happen.
In April 2010, he was arrested in Michigan when found in possession of a load of marijuana, Barris said. He was transporting the drugs for a co-worker associated with the gun shop, she said. It was the same co-worker Evans was supposed to drive to Phoenix with on the day he disappeared, according to Barris.
The Tucson Weekly is not identifying Evans' co-workers, or the gun shop, because authorities have not identified any suspects in the case.
Kurt Dabb, a homicide detective with the Pima County Sheriff's Department, who is investigating Evans' disappearance, declined to name anyone interviewed beyond immediate family members, citing concerns about compromising the case. He did confirm that some form of criminal activity likely led to Evans' disappearance.
Barris said she and her family "were clueless" about Evans' arrest prior to his disappearance. Though she has no proof, Barris said she believes her brother felt compelled to commit crimes on behalf of a co-worker, because that person helped Evans get the job that enabled him to return to Tucson.
"I think he was trapped, honestly," Barris said. "All his eggs were in one basket. I think he was trying to get out of all this, and that's why something happened to him."
Dabb said his gut tells him Evans is the victim of a homicide. "When things don't add up ... you get a pretty good indication of foul play," Dabb said. But for the time being, he will continue to treat it as a missing-person case.
"This is still active," Dabb said. "We're still trying to track down as many leads as we can. We haven't gotten much help from the public."
Several local media outlets ran brief items when Evans disappeared last year, but there has been little public attention given to the case since. A handful of websites devoted to missing persons have posted information about Evans. Last January, his girlfriend, Brandy Miller, created a "Bruce Evans Missing" Facebook page that has about 66 subscribers.
The most recent post on the page's wall is from Evans' mother, Rose Westmoreland, on the anniversary of his disappearance. It says the balloons and letters released that day were "sent ... to heaven to let you know how much we love and miss you."
Westmoreland declined to comment for this story, and attempts to contact Miller were unsuccessful.