Hundreds gather for vigil for missing Columbia executive

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Hundreds gathered in Columbia Wednesday night for missing Columbia executive Tom Sponseller.

Family, friends, and business colleagues held a candlelight vigil on the State House grounds filled with song, prayers and tears for the the 61-year-old CEO of the South Carolina Hospitality Association.

The well-known lobbyist's son opened the vigil by welcoming the large crowd and thanking them for coming.

The vigil was also filled with plenty of questions from long-time friends like Dan Runion, who went to high school with Sponseller more than 40 years ago.

"You don't know whether to grieve or go out and look ," said Runion. "You just don't have a feeling at the moment because you don't know anything."

Police say Sponseller was last seen Saturday at his office in downtown Columbia.

"I have not heard anything concrete yet," said friend Howard Duvall. "The only things I've heard is what's in the newspaper, which is very sketchy."

Police have been trying to fill in the blanks by reviewing cell phone records, credit card activity and surveillance video near Sponseller's office building to try to determine what may have happened.

However, it's still not clear what those tapes will reveal. Sources say security cameras in Sponseller's building were not working properly this past weekend due to a recent power surge, and that his Lady Street office building is not in the line of sight of some security cameras outside.

Investigators have also searched all twelve floors of the buidling twice since Sponseller was reported missing by his family Saturday evening.

Due to his notoriety in political and hospitality industry circles, the Midlands and the state has rallied around the story since news first broke that the long-time CEO was missing. A Facebook page about him has nearly two thousand followers tuned in to the case.

"It's amazing to me that a person can be seen in downtown Columbia at noon on a Saturday and just completely disappear," said Duvall.

Friends and neighbors addressed the large crowd for roughly 15 minutes Wednesday night, sharing stories about Sponseller, and tearfully praying for his safe return.

"Tom, I don't know what happened and I don't know where you are," said neighbor Mike Johnson. "But, I pray you will return to us safe."

Those sentiments are all shared by a concerned community hoping for some good news soon.

"Everybody just loves Tom," said Dan Runion. "I don't know of someone who does not like Tom. It makes it equally hard to understand that someone could've done something to him."