GLENDALE, Ore. - Three years ago, when Deputy Sheriff Larry Gibson told his neighbors in this small one-mill town that his 2-year-old son was missing, they turned out by the hundreds to search the timbered hills.
Now that Gibson has been arrested on charges he murdered the boy and hid the body, there is a mixture of relief and betrayal in the hearts of people who suspected for a long time that something just wasn't right.
"With all the people that searched for him, they'd better keep him locked up," Dominic Prielipp said Friday while stopping in at a video store on the main street through this town of 800 people three miles off Interstate 5 between Roseburg and Grants Pass.
Kim Wilborn, owner of The Video Zone, thinks Gibson's arrest puts to rest reports that Tommy Gibson was abducted by strangers who drove up his remote driveway and stole him from the front yard of the mobile home where he lived.
"I feel relief," she said.
"Some people questioned him from the beginning, and some people still believe in him," said Jim Donner, shop foreman at the A&M Transport trucking company.
"They didn't really so much care (whether Larry Gibson was guilty) as they wanted an answer."
For many people, the arrest confirms the feeling that something wasn't right about the way Gibson was taking it all, sitting in his mobile home drinking coffee while his neighbors searched the woods and creek bottoms.
"But everybody kept their mouth shut and tried to find the boy," said Prielipp, who lived down the road from Gibson and is training to become an emergency medical technician.
Gibson, 33, was arrested Thursday at his grandmother's house in Townsend, Mont., where he had been selling insurance while trying to start a new life since leaving Oregon in 1992.
He waived extradition and is expected to be in Roseburg as early as tomorrow to face indictments on charges of murder and murder by abuse.
The arrest came a few months after Gibson and his wife split up, said Charles Lee, an attorney who represented Gibson before he moved to Montana. Lee said the couple had a heated argument, and Gibson blamed her for the boy's disappearance, saying she hadn't watched him closely enough.
Judy Gibson packed the kids in a car and drove to Oregon, Lee said, and is living at a secret location.
Assistant District Attorney Theodore Zacher acknowledged he had spoken to Judy Gibson but refused to say what testimony or evidence led to her husband's arrest.
Lee said he spoke to Gibson on the telephone after his arrest, and he said police in Montana played a tape recording of his daughter, Karen, now 7, saying she saw her father hit Tommy and put him in a black plastic garbage bag.
Lee said that account differed sharply from the girl's statements several months after the disappearance, when she was 4, that she saw strangers drive off with Tommy.
When his son disappeared, Gibson was a familiar face in Glendale as the resident deputy for south Douglas County, in the heart of Oregon's timber country. He lived outside Glendale in the part of the Cow Creek Valley known as Azalea with his wife and two children.
Gibson told authorities he went out jogging as usual on the morning of March 18, 1991. When he left, Tommy was playing in the yard. His wife came out a little later, and the boy was gone. Assuming he had followed his father, she waited for them to return.
When Gibson came back without the boy, they said they searched the area, then called for help.
Melvin Wilborn joined searchers who went to the top of a mountain and trudged though mud and snow in hopes of finding a sign of the boy.
"If your child was missing, would you go to work?" Wilborn asked. "He was getting ready to go to work."
As the days went by with no sign of the boy, Gibson mounted a campaign to fingerprint local children to help identify them if they were abducted, and he wrote a song about his missing son.
A friend posted a reward of $5,000. A psychic suggested a cougar had killed the boy and dragged him off. Gibson took a leave of absence from his job.
Two months later, it was revealed Gibson had shot and killed a neighbor's cat about the time the boy disappeared. State police searched Gibson's home and dug up the yard.
Investigators said in an affidavit that they believed Gibson had accidentally shot his son while firing at the cat and that even Gibson conceded "it's the only thing that makes sense."