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Suspects charged with aiding Stroupe say he threatened them, wanted to sink truck in lake

Jennifer Hawkins calls Stroupe an acquaintance. When he knocked on her door Wednesday between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., she said he used another name and had covered his tattoos with makeup. (Photo credit: WLOS staff)

Investigators in Henderson County tell News 13 they have asked other counties to help in the search for Thomas Bryson missing since Wednesday.

Searches were done along roadways in Buncombe, Henderson, Haywood, Jackson, Yancey, and Madison Counties and eastern Tennessee, with confirmation Bryson's truck was spotted in Gatlinburg & Sevierville Tennessee after 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

Credible information leading to Bryson's whereabouts could result in a reward of $15,000.

The man accused of kidnapping Bryson, Phillip Stroupe II, has since been arrested.

On Saturday, Stroupe was charged with Bryson's kidnapping as well as carjacking.

Three people were arrested and charged with felony harboring an escapee.

Those charges were filed here in Buncombe County. Jennifer Hawkins, her boyfriend Frederick Badgero, and her nephew Larry Hawkins Jr. are all charged with felony harboring an escapee.

All three have appeared before a magistrate on the charges--and claim they didn't help Phillip Stroupe.

While search and rescue crews worked back over areas along North and South Mills River Roads looking for Thomas Bryson, Jennifer Hawkins and Frederick Badgero say they wondered why Phillip Stroupe chose to show up at Jennifer Hawkins' home.

“I just don't understand why he just showed up at my house, why he would think it would be OK to come there, and I would help him,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins calls Stroupe an acquaintance. When he knocked on her door Wednesday between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., she said he used another name and had covered his tattoos with makeup.

“I came out to see who 'John' was, really didn't recognize Stroupe at first because he had makeup on,” said Jennifer Hawkins.

They claim Stroupe also threatened them.

“He told me to come outside, and I come outside and that's when he pulled the gun, and showed me the gun, and opened it up and showed me two spent bullets and said he'd do it to them,” said Badgero, gesturing to his girlfriend.

Over the five hours they claim Stroupe was at the house, they say he spent most of the time in Bryson's truck, and had one request.

“He said he was wanting to take the truck and dump it in the lake, Lake James, and he said to follow him. I feel like he was going to kill me,” said Badgero.

Badgero and Jennifer's nephew, Larry Hawkins Jr., followed Stroupe.

“We were just trying to get him to go peacefully without any altercations,” said Hawkins.

Badgero said he was there as law enforcement caught up with Stroupe on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“He sees them blue-lighting me, he knows that it's not my fault and he's not going to hurt them. Next thing I know (police) whips around me and goes after him,” said Badgero.

Law enforcement are not convinced by their story.

“(They) were not truthful and up-front about what had transpired there until later on,” said Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan.

While all three have faced charges in the past, they say that coupled with the threat is why they didn't alert police.

“I thought about it, but then again I was like, I just moved in here, I just bought this house, and I was scared to have the police come to my house because in the past they've done that, and it's not been good,” said Hawkins.

Just like the crews who've spent four days searching, they hope Bryson is found safe.

“I pray to God that they find him, I really do,” said Hawkins.

Larry Hawkins was in the process of turning himself in at the Buncombe County Jail as we talked with the other two.

On Saturday, Buncombe County DA Todd Williams told News 13, “the potential exposure for anyone who helped Stroupe is life without parole, depending on what happened to Bryson."

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