(NAPLES, Fla.) — What happened to Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos nearly a decade ago? For years, there have been whispers in Naples, Fla., about the men and the last person they were seen with, a police officer who said he dropped off the two men at separate convenience stores.
On Thursday, movie mogul Tyler Perry, the Rev. Al Sharpton and NAACP president Ben Jealous announced as much as $100,000 in rewards for information on the cases.
“This is injustice,” said Perry, who throughout a news conference in Naples clutched the hand of Williams’ mother.
“I don’t think this is about race or social status as much as it is about, no matter who we are, we should be outraged that this is happening in America in 2013,” he added, according to video recordings of the event.
Seconds after Perry offered his reward, a man in the audience interrupted, approaching the podium to claim he had information pertinent to the case and feared for his life, according to video of the event.
“Be here for my safety,” said the man, sobbing.
Perry said local law enforcement assured him that it will do everything possible to protect people who speak out, adding, “The world is watching.”
“Just like this man has come forward. I am sure there are others,” Sharpton told the crowd of about 150 people.
Later, Collier County authorities spoke with the man to determine if he had any relevant information.
Santos, 23 at the time of his disappearance in October 2003, vanished following a road incident, where Santos was arrested for driving without proper documentation, Naples Daily News reports.
According to the newspaper, Cpl. Steven Calkins of Collier County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a memo that he had dropped Santos off at a nearby convenience store instead of making the arrest.
Three months later, Williams, then 27, who had recently moved from Tennessee to Florida, pulled his vehicle over after experiencing car trouble, the Naples Daily News reported. He was spotted by Calkins near a North Naples cemetery.
Calkins later told investigators that he took Williams to a nearby convenience store, where he let him off and never saw him again, the newspaper reports.
Calkins, a 17-year law enforcement veteran, was questioned and fired in 2004 after failing a polygraph test and giving inconsistent statements about his encounter with Williams, according to the Naples Daily News. His patrol car was tested for blood and signs of struggle, but nothing was found.
On Thursday, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said it had not spoken to Calkins since he was fired.
ABC News’ attempts to reach Calkins by phone were unsuccessful.
In 2006, Calkins denied wrongdoing and called it “very bad luck” that he was the last person seen with the missing men, according to the Naples Daily News.
Perry’s $100,000 in rewards broke down into four separate $25,000 offers, according to a news release by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. The four $25,000 rewards were for information leading to the locations of either Santos or Williams, or convictions in either case.
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said he was pleased to have Perry raising awareness of the cases.
“We need the right piece of new information,” Rambosk said in a news release. “We are hopeful that Tyler Perry’s involvement will not only keep Terrance and Felipe in the public eye, but also prompt someone to step forward with the information we need.
“We are asking anyone who may have information to please contact us,” he added. “Every tip, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is important.”
“The only way to turn a cold case into a live case is turn up the heat,” said Jealous. “The NAACP has not forgotten about Mr. Williams, Mr. Santos and this deputy who remains of interest.”
Sharpton said Perry sparked his interest when he called him to question why civil rights leaders weren’t dealing with missing-persons cases. In 2011, nearly 680,000 people were reported missing by the National Crime Information Center, and 34 percent were African American although the group makes up only 13 percent of the population.
“This kind of issue requires all of us black, white, Latino, Asian, rich and poor to come together,” said Sharpton of the now-multi-agency investigation into the men’s disappearances.
The FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida State Attorney’s Office also were involved in the investigation, the sheriff’s office said.
“I’ll never give up,” said Marcia Roberts, Williams’ mother, who held the hands of Perry often throughout the news conference and called Perry a godsend.
“Terrance has four children,” she said. “I have to have answers. I demand to have answers.”
After nine years, she hoped the renewed interest helps thaw her son’s cold case.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio