Family of murdered teen finding peace through advocacy

It's been two years since 14-year-old Jabez Spann disappeared from Sarasota. Eighteen months later, his remains were discovered along a fence line in a field in rural Manatee County. 

"We were hoping not to find him the way we did. But the 18 months of searching, at least that's over because that was kind of torture. No, that was torture," said Tawana Spann, Jabez's mother.

It was a heartbreaking discovery that would lead to more questions than answers as Jabez's killer has still never been found. 

"Jabez is gone and we're desperately seeking to find answers, but we're not the only ones. And our mission and our goal is to not let him leave this world in vain," said Joe Butler, Jabez's stepfather.

His family is now turning their pain into action by creating the Jabez Spann Foundation, an effort to help other families, emotionally and financially, as they walk through the unthinkable.

"One child is way too many," said Butler. "You may not think that until it's your child, and then you realize you want that help."

They also hope to give a new purpose to one of Jabez's greatest passions - football.

"I have a goal to give out a scholarship to a child for academics but especially for football," said Spann.

Image 1 of 2

The family now finds comfort advocating for other missing children.

"He was always the type of individual that would stand up for that lesser person," said Butler. "So by us standing up for all of the people that are in a similar situation that he had to experience. I know he would be proud."

However, their own fight for justice is far from over.

"It's just a matter of time," said Spann. "To whoever did this, I know it has to be hard to sleep, because it's just a matter of time."

The family plans to hold an event called Peace-ing the Puzzle, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m. at Fred Atkins Park in Sarasota, to honor Jabez's life and to advocate for other missing children.

To find out more about the Jabez Spann Foundation, visit

The Sarasota Police Department is still actively investigating Jabez's death. They ask anyone with information to contact them immediately.