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A search got underway for Hiram Johnson on Saturday morning. The search was organized by the missing man’s family and friends. Pictured, from left, are Kendra Haigler, Shinique Bennett, Tasha Calloway, Carrie Wright, Johnson’s sister Kenyetta Washington and cousin Angel Bruce.

The family of 37-year-old Hiram Eugene “Sport” Johnson wants answers, but mostly it wants him returned home safely.

Johnson’s friends and family launched a search for him at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

They gathered at his Hardwick Street home in Branchville. He was last seen there on Friday, Nov. 23 getting into a black Ford, which sped away with him in the rear seat.

“The car was seen speeding off from here and that’s the last we saw,” said one of his sisters, Kenyetta Washington of North Carolina.

She returned to Branchville to be with her family and comfort her parents during their time of uncertainty.

She and her family aren’t doing well, she said. “We don’t have any answers. Nothing.”

Washington said that what is even more troubling is that someone made a ransom call on the day her brother went missing.

Their cousin, Angel Bruce, said the caller used Johnson’s phone to place the call to one of his neighbors.

The neighbor said that the caller demanded $25,000 from Johnson’s brother or they’d kill Johnson.

Bruce and other family members said police aren’t calling Johnson’s disappearance a kidnapping because he willingly got into the vehicle before it sped away.

Before starting the search on Saturday, Johnson’s friends and family joined hands as Washington led them in a prayer.

“We ask that Hiram be brought home safe, God,” she prayed.

She also called on God to provide strength and peace to their family.

Before the search got underway, Washington said that she and her family are, “hoping for the best and trying to prepare for the worst.”

An hour-long search took place in an area just a few yards off U.S. Highway 78, parallel to a set of railroad tracks.

Family members said the suspected vehicle was seen near an abandoned church in the area.

The search began quietly, with about a dozen or so family and friends peering into a wooded area near the train tracks.

A few family members called out, “Hiram!”

Their voices carried down the road and around a parked train, but there was no response from their missing loved one.

After the search didn’t yield any clues and the rain started to fall, part of the search group decided to leave the area and place flyers in other places that may help lead to the location of their loved one.

Johnson is a black male who is 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighs approximately 170 pounds and has a low faded haircut, according to Washington.

He has a long scar on the back of his head with a tattoo below. The tattoo says “AR-15, 11-02-00” and beneath that is an outline resembling an AR-15 firearm.

Bruce said the scar is from surgery Johnson received after he was shot in the head during an incident 18 years ago.

Johnson was shot by a member of the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office during a covert operation stemming from a stolen weapons investigation.

The OCSO Taskforce and Criminal Investigations Division had been conducting surveillance at the old Branchville Elementary School ballfield on Lockett Street, just a couple of blocks from Johnson’s home.

As the undercover operation unfolded, officers moved in on two people on Nov. 2, 2000. For an undisclosed reason, shots were fired by members of the sheriff’s office team.

Johnson, who was 19 at the time, was shot in the head by officers.

A helicopter took Johnson from the scene and to a hospital for treatment of his wounds.

Even at 37, Johnson is prone to having seizures and takes medication to treat it.

He’s been without his medication since he’s been missing, his family said.

He was last seen wearing a white shirt, blue jeans and white sneakers, Washington said.

On Monday, Branchville Police Chief Randy Clark said the search for Johnson is ongoing.

He said he couldn’t comment any further about Johnson’s case, since the investigation in active.

The S.C. Law Enforcement Division is also investigating Johnson’s disappearance, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.

According to a Branchville Police Department incident report, someone found one of Johnson’s cell phones in the road in front of the Citgo gas station at 210 Dorange Road on Friday.

Anyone with information on Johnson’s whereabouts is asked to call the Branchville Police Department at 803-274-8820, Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC or SLED’s Low Country Regional Office at 843-782-3822. Callers don’t have to provide their names.

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Contact the writer: mbrown@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5545. Follow on Twitter: @MRBrownTandD

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Staff Writer

Martha Rose Brown covers crime and other topics. The South Carolina native has been a journalist for the past 16 years.

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