NEW YORK (PIX11) — Alelia Newsome has not moved from her Brooklyn apartment in the last 16 years, hoping her only son would return to the home he always knew. He hasn’t been seen since he came out as gay to his family in 2005.
“The last time I saw Eddie, I was dropping him off to school,” Newsome said. “He had to take a test.” The mother of four recalled she said goodbye to her son at Essex Street in Lower Manhattan after giving him lunch money on Aug. 10, 2005.
The teen had recently shared a secret with his mom. “He was 14, and he told me that he [likes boys],” Newsome recalled. Eddie Tillman never came home. But there were a few sightings in the beginning, his mother said.
“One of the little boys said they saw him on a train, and he was with an older man,” Newsome recalled. “He said he said to Eddie, ‘Eddie, why don’t you go home?’ And he said he wasn’t ready to go home yet.”
The NYPD Missing Persons Squad has featured Tillman’s case on its Twitter feed several times in the last year. Det. Michael McDonough, who inherited the case, said Tillman may have been worrying about family acceptance of his sexual orientation. “They have anxiety over how they feel and how they believe they’re being viewed,” he said. “But this is 2021. That was 2005.”
Tillman’s mother said in the early days after her son vanished, she used to sleep in her car near Chrystie Street or West Fourth Street in Manhattan, looking for him in local parks. There was another alleged sighting of her son in 2017 by an old family friend. “He said he saw Eddie down in the Village (Greenwich Village), and he said Eddie was dressed as a girl,” Newsome said.
McDonough said he hopes frank conversations about gender identity in recent years will give Tillman, now 30, the courage to reach out to his mother and sisters again. Keyeara Newsome said her brother was her best friend when they were growing up. “My family is ready for him to come back,” she said. “Even if he is dressed as a girl, I’m ready for him to be my best friend and go out with me, as a girl.”
The NYPD has not verified whether Tillman transitioned to being a woman. “We have heard that, in the past, that he did crossdress,” McDonough said. “It’s never been verified.”
Tillman’s older sister, Jhalisa Tillman, said the family has received mysterious calls over the years. “Strangely, around holidays, and when my dad passed away and my grandmother passed away,” she said, adding people claiming to be his old friends would ask if the family had found him. The most regular caller would say her name was Stephanie from the Lower East Side, according to Jhalisa Tillman.
“There’s just so many unanswered questions,” Jhalisa added. “How did you get the number? Why do you call randomly? I want to believe it’s him kind of checking up on us, in a disguise.”
Patricia Newsome was 16 when her brother disappeared and closely resembles him. “Twins,” she said. “That was my twin.” She used to enjoy dancing with her brother to R&B songs, especially to the hit recorded by TLC, “Waterfalls.”
She is hoping her brother will learn the family is searching for him through social media and television, especially with the upcoming holidays. “Just come home,” Patricia pleaded.
Tillman’s mother echoed her daughter’s sentiments. “I just want him to make it home to us. I just pray and beg every day,” Alelia said. “I don’t care if he’s dressed as a woman. I love my son for who he is.”