Her calls went straight to voicemail. Her texts went unreturned. By mid-morning on March 11, 2011, the mother of Auburn University star safety Mike McNeil felt the shudder of a parental alarm go off in her mind. Where was Melodie Campbell’s son? His college roommates hadn’t seen him. He was absent from team workouts. He hadn’t been admitted to a hospital. Vanished.
Campbell would discover what happened to her son over a timeline that may prove to be a tripwire to imploding a powerful and storied athletic institution. In Auburn, Ala., the influence of its behemoth college football program can be traced by the river of money that flows through the local businesses at Toomer’s Corner and spills into the coffers of millionaire coaches who occupy the 88,0000 square-foot athletics complex. That Campbell was the last to know of her son’s fate over a five-hour search for answers raises serious questions about Auburn University’s role in a felony case and illuminates a culture seemingly unhinged from institutional control.