Sheriff: Body found in Roanoke River, believed to be missing man

Crews from two counties are searching for a person in the Roanoke River.
Crews from two counties are searching for a person in the Roanoke River.(WITN)
Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 12:15 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 2, 2020 at 9:25 AM EDT
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WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WITN) - Authorities believe they found the body of a missing man in the Roanoke River.

Bertie County Sheriff John Holley says they believe they found the body of 29-year-old Joseph Lee Sheppard Jr. about a mile downriver from the access point at Moratoc Park.

Holley says the body was found before 9 a.m. Thursday and they are currently in the process of pulling it out.

Sheppard was reported missing since last week. Witnesses say they saw a man jump in the Roanoke River, but he never came back up to the surface.


Crews will be back out searching Wednesday for a man who is believed to have drowned in the Roanoke River in Williamston.

Authorities say witnesses told them the man jumped in the river.

His family is in disbelief, because they say going to the river was something Joseph Lee Sheppard, junior, 29, didn’t do. However, they believe it could be him in the river. His father, Joseph Lee Sheppard recalls the last time he spoke to his son.

Sheppard said, “I told him, ‘Don’t get in no trouble.’ And then, he left home that morning. And that was it. I haven’t seen him any more since.”

He’s heartbroken, and is hoping they find him soon to give the family some closure.

Sheppard said, “I miss him so much. And I hope you all can find his body. And I love him to death.”

He says his son was last seen June 25th. Witnesses told Bertie County Sheriff John Holley they saw a man jump in the Roanoke River, but he never came back up to the surface.

Holley said, “They had received a report at 3:55 that gentleman had jumped into the river at Moratoc Park.”

And since then, Holley says they searched all day Monday and Tuesday looking for the body. However, it’s going to be tough, because Holley says the current is too strong.

“I’ve been here several times. It’s deep water, strong current,” said Holley, “Not many can actually live and tell you about making it out of it—out of that river.”

Holley says it’s difficult, even for professionals.

“Last time we had divers, it was really tough,” Holley said.

Holley says the divers have been called. And now, they’re just working to find him to confirm for the Sheppards.

“Closure for the family; and that way, we’ll know 100 percent on who it is. Do we believe we know, yes, but not 100 percent,” said Holley.

And Joseph junior’s aunt Mamie Sheppard painfully waits for the call.

Mamie said, “He lived with me. And I love him. I just don’t know why he did it.”

The family believes Sheppard did struggle with mental issues, but was progressing well.

Holley says he and his team are in recovery mode, and will stay out here all night until they find him.

Williamston Fire-Rescue and N.C. Wildlife services have been assisting in the search. The boat ramp is closed until further notice.

Officials continue the search for a missing man in the Roanoke River at Moratoc Park in Williamston.

Bertie County Sheriff John Holley said search crews were called to the park yesterday for a report that a man jumped in the river. Crews continued their search until dark Monday and were back on scene this morning. Sheriff Holley said crews will continue their search until dark today and continue first thing in the morning if needed.

The sheriff said two people saw the man jump and that today crews are in recovery mode for the body. Family members say the man was 29 years old.

The Roanoke River divides Bertie and Martin counties, but authorities say all of the river is in Bertie County.

Officials have not released the name of the missing man, but they believe they know who it was. If you have any information, you are asked to give the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office a call at (252) 794-5330.

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