NELSONVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — The Whitmore Cemetery stands on a steeply sloping hill high above the village of Buchtel. As Linda Johnson bends down to clean a few stray leaves from her grandson’s grave, she is mindful that Bryan “Kyle” Bridgeman’s case is still open — and that another young man has disappeared on the road to Nelsonville.
“Bryan passed on June 3, 2021, and we were able to bury him, I believe it was December 1,” Johnson said. Her own headstone lies just beyond Bridgeman’s. She purchased it in advance and will rest next to her first husband, Ernie, a trucker who died in 1988.
As last summer wore on, Bridgeman’s family had to get used to the idea that he was most likely dead. But his grandmother wouldn’t give up searching for him.
“That not-knowing is what always got to me, and I wanted to know,” Johnson said. “So I think that’s why I pushed for Bryan’s face to be out there. I knew how Bryan was. The kind of person he was. And for him to be gone wasn’t like him. And he knew — I was always there for him.”
The sheriff’s office recovered Bridgeman’s body.
“It gave me closure that we had Bryan, and we were able to put him to rest,” she said. “But closure in how and why he died — it’s still [not] there.”
Bridgeman was last seen with Paul Joseph “PJ” Coon, according to Johnson’s statement to investigators. Coon and his wife, Lindsay, have both been arrested on unrelated charges and are currently in separate jails. They have not been charged in connection with Bridgeman’s disappearance or death.
But Johnson has a message for PJ Coon.
“I guess this would be directed to the last person that was with Bryan: It took us five months before we could find him,” Johnson said. “You were supposed to have been a friend, so please explain to me what happened.
“I deserve that.”
Johnson said she still calls monthly over to the Athens County Sheriff’s Office, whose officers found Bridgeman’s body, to speak with Capt. Bryan Cooper about the case.
“They’ve been really good with me. They’re very open, honest, and I have to say they have done their job very well,” Johnson said.
An email to Cooper from NBC4 confirms the case of Bridgeman’s disappearance and death is still active.
As she tried to find out what happened to Bridgeman, Johnson became aware that her grandson wasn’t the only person missing in the area. Another man is now missing on the road to Nelsonville. Derek Johnson, 39, of Laurel Run Road in Hocking County, disappeared on Jan. 19.
“It’s up to the family to get their face out there, to get their name out there. Hold vigils with pictures, pass out flyers,” Linda Johnson said.
Bridgeman’s family members joined in the search for Bryan, as well as friends and strangers in the community. They let the sheriff’s office know where they didn’t find his body. Golden Hearts, A Voice 4 the Voiceless came close to finding him through their repeated crisscrossing of the area.
“Do yard sales or bake sales — anything you can think of to make maybe some money just to help those searchers out — because that gas and the expense of the animals they use, all of that comes out of their pocket, and they don’t ask for a dime,” Johnson said.
“But it kept me busy, and I think that was a good thing, for me, to keep busy as well while the search was on. But I’m very thankful for all the people that supported me through this. And if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know if I would have made it or not.”