Before he disappeared, Timothy Hamlett wanted to be in the Olympics. He was a star runner for the Penn track and field team — one of the top recruits of his year, teammates said. He was a role model to underclassman, a compassionate friend and never one to allow his ego to get in the way of his sense of humor. But as his sophomore year progressed, Hamlett’s behavior noticeably changed. He became distant from friends and family, and in September 2014, was charged with vandalism. Then he went missing. Who is Timothy Hamlett and where has he gone?
Hamlett, a native of Teaneck, N.J., and a former Penn junior, vanished on Dec. 26 and was last seen near the George Washington Bridge in the Washington Heights area of New York. His wallet was found in a nearby park and his cell phone was traced to two young people who said they found the belongings at a park near a school. Police did not suspect foul play since $10 remained in the wallet.
Today marks the third month of Hamlett’s absence. As recently as the night of March 25, Teaneck Police confirmed the investigation is still open and ongoing. It is still unclear why Hamlett disappeared, but information from Hamlett's friends and family provides more context on the circumstances leading up to Dec. 26.
A 'great kid'
To his friends, Hamlett is charismatic, funny and committed to track.
College sophomore Clark Mangini has known Hamlett since they were on rival track teams in high school. At Penn, they were roommates and trained together. Mangini said he was inspired by Hamlett both because of his talent on the track team and his humility despite his success. During the interview, Mangini was visibly distraught and emotional over Hamlett’s disappearance.
In high school, Hamlett was a New Jersey state champion for the indoor 400-meter race. Coming to Penn, Mangini said, “I was pretty excited, the prospect of being on a team with him ... I think the opportunity to run with him definitely played a part in my choice to come to Penn.”
Even before he got to Penn, Hamlett made a strong impression on the friends he interacted with.
“Tim was very cool, he was into schoolwork, he was very studious, but at the same time he made separate time to have fun, like with us both on and off the court,” said Jemal Mosley, Hamlett’s high school basketball teammate at Don Bosco Preparatory School.
“In between classes we would always have fun, prank each other, just make the best of it,” Mosley, who is a current sophomore basketball player at New Haven University, said of going to an all-boys school with Hamlett.
Another time, Mosley remembered Hamlett having a great time at Mosley’s 18th birthday party.
“Tim had the time of his life. Tim’s not really a dancer, but that night I don’t know what was in Tim, he was dancing like crazy,” Mosley said. “When we’ve seen Tim dancing, we was literally crying on the floor.”
“He came into school as one of the higher recruited players,” John Landro, another high school friend of Hamlett’s, said. Even as Hamlett transitioned to the track team team, “he would give me more advice on the basketball court and help me become a better basketball player.”
Landro, who now plays basketball for Arcadia University near Philadelphia, said Hamlett struck people as a fun person to be around and a good friend.
He recounted a time when Hamlett and his dad, Archie, walked into basketball practice with matching pink and yellow rain boots that went up to their knees. “We were all just laughing at him so hard, and he was laughing back because he knew it was hilarious and he didn’t know why he was wearing them, but it was so funny,” Landro said.
Even at Don Bosco — an all boys school — Hamlett made time for women in his life.
“It seems like there were some lovely young ladies and nothing from what I could tell that was super serious. I think kids these days kind of keep themselves open in that area,” his mother, Katherine Hamlett said.
Hamlett’s friend Mosley mentioned a specific girl — a high school cheerleader who cheered at some Don Bosco games. “I was like pretty surprised, I was like wow, Timothy, I didn’t know you had game,” he said, laughing.
Landro said Hamlett was not only a serious athlete, but also a serious student, citing a time his mom made him stay home from a Nets game to finish an essay. Hamlett was “always a great kid, one of my better friends on the team, someone you could talk to if you needed someone," Landro said. "[An] all-around great kid. I loved him, honestly."
(Above, left to right:god sister Crystal Montgomery, NJ Senator Cory Booker, cousin Michelle Paynes and Timothy Hamlett)
Hamlett’s behavior started to change significantly during his sophomore year at Penn, according to his friends and mother.
College junior Kelechi Okereke met Hamlett during New Student Orientation. “I guess we kind of just like clicked instantly,” he said. “We pretty much did like everything together ... He was a super cool guy, really funny, really smart and really committed to track.”
But sophomore year, he became a lot more like distant, Okereke said. “It was definitely something like you could tell, 'what’s up with Tim?'”
Okereke assumed that Hamlett’s distance had to do with his busy track schedule. But he soon realized that a lot of people were not seeing him.
“He wasn’t like talking to anyone, at least for me being his close friend. We all kind of were like something was up, but we don’t really know what’s going on,” he said.
When Hamlett’s behavior changed, “none of the roommates held it against him, because we knew it wasn’t him,” Mangini said. However, a source confirmed that Hamlett’s roommates kicked him out of his room last semester after they realized he had stolen belongings from them.
In September 2014, Hamlett was arrested for throwing a brick through someone’s window. “The team was pissed off” about media coverage of the incident, Mangini said. “Everyone still knew him as a great guy, despite whatever changes there might have been,” he added.
After the vandalism incident, Hamlett took a leave of absence from the University. During that time, his mother said he was addressing medical issues. She declined to give details for privacy reasons, but noted that Hamlett was not home in New Jersey during his leave of absence.
“We made the decision that because of the changed behavior that we needed to address the issue and so that’s what we did,” she said. She said he returned home to the family’s Teaneck home around Christmastime. “He was home for the holidays and there you have it, and now we don’t know where he is,” she said.
Hamlett’s mother believes her son’s behavior changed due to his use of performance enhancing athletic supplements, which she suspected he started using in spring 2013. She said his behavior noticeably changed that September.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, known side effects of using these drugs include muscle cramps, dehydration, diarrhea, nausea and seizures. The Academy does not list behavioral or psychological changes as possible side effects, though Hamlett’s mother said that a number of scientists support her claim. She said her son’s neuropsychiatrist had seen other patients who had experienced brain toxicity from these types of drugs. The morning of his disappearance, Hamlett took a pituitary gland analysis to test for a brain cyst, which he’d been diagnosed with previously from an MRI, his mother confirmed in an interview for a previous article.
“There’s too many young people falling through the cracks,” Hamlett’s mother said.
Hamlett’s friends were shocked when they heard about the disappearance. “It didn’t make sense for him to disappear out of nowhere,” Okereke said. “It doesn’t fit his personality.”
Allante Keels, a 2013 College graduate and currently a second year Penn Law student who was on the track team when Hamlett joined, described that personality as “infectious.”
“I was a senior and he was a freshman and he was like a little brother to me,” Keels said. He was “always smiling, just a very down-to-earth athlete.”
Sydni Lester, a senior basketball player at Southern Connecticut State University, last saw Hamlett during the summer of 2014, when she said he was behaving as usual. “He was his regular self, he was totally fine,” she said. Lester’s recollection runs counter to the account given by his mother, Okereke and Mangini.
When Lester heard about Hamlett’s disappearance, she couldn’t believe it.
“I was upset at first, I thought like maybe his phone died and maybe, you know, he lost it or maybe, you know, it was off the charger,” Lester said. She remembered thinking at the time. “Oh Timothy, he’ll be home. He might have just stepped out and forgot to tell his parents.”
Mosley had a similar reaction. “When I heard the news, I was pretty much shocked because I knew Timothy was a good kid,” he said. “I was just speechless.”
“Oh my God, I was shocked,” Landro said. “I think I was sleeping and I woke up the next morning and saw texts from my friends and I was shocked, I didn’t know what to say.”
When Hamlett left campus in the fall, “there was no big goodbye, it was kind of him leaving us hoping that he would be back next semester,” Mangini said. “I just want to see him around again. I would love for him to come back to live with us.”
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