Laura Anne Marcello, Cameron Pendergrass' aunt, said her nephew, 20, was home on Shelter Island recently on leave. He celebrated his grandfather's birthday with the family on July 8, she said, and spent time with family and friends before leaving to head back to Fort Drum, New York, on July 15.
His younger sister, Marcello said, picked up Pendergrass and brought him to the Cross Sound Ferry on July 15, after which, she said, "No one has heard from him at all."
Until Monday, when Marcello said Pendergrass' mother Donna received a text message, seemingly from her son.
"We don't know if it's from him," Marcello said. "But the message said 'Mom, I'm okay.'"
The text went on to say he was sorry and that Pendergrass was "depressed" and "didn't know how to handle it, by going back," Marcello said.
In the meantime, Marcello said, Pendergrass' father, a career military man stationed in Massachusetts, is worried about the repercussions and believes his son "has to go back."
The main thing, Marcello said, is that Pendergrass remains safe. "My focus is trying to find him," she said. "We don't know what to think. This is so out of character. He loved his job. He loved learning."
Pendergrass never gave anyone any indication that he no longer was happy with the Army, which he joined just over a year ago, she said.
When she received the text, Cameron's sobbing mother wrote back, pleading with her son to call. "He still hasn't called," Marcello said.
The family, she said, has been sending him messages on Facebook and has been able to determine that he appears to be online. "He's not responding to any of us," she said.
Police on both Shelter Island and in Massauchusetts, where Pendergrass was last headed when he left the Cross Sound Ferry and bought a ticket to Boston, have been searching for him, his aunt said.
Her nephew's phone, she said, is shut off. "He doesn't want us to know where he is," she said.
Describing her nephew, Marcello said he has a smile that lights up a room and loves singing, dancing, and mimicking. "He's a goofball," she said. Most of all, she added, "He loves spending time with his family."
If she could speak to him, Marcello said she would tell her nephew, "Cameron, please do the right thing and call your family. If, in fact, it's you that texted your mother, call her. Someone needs to hear your voice. We just want you to get home or back to the base safely. The whole community is loving you, and looking for you. We love you. We just want you to be safe."