After learning that her brother Gavin Smith's missing-persons case had been reclassified as a homicide, Tara Smith Addeo couldn't help but remember the last night she heard from him before he disappeared.
The night before she learned Gavin was missing, he sent her a couple of text messages, she told E! News in an exclusive interview.
"He was pretty much just talking about his sons," Tara recalled. "There was some trouble in the family and he was estranged from his boys, so he was just kind of venting to me about how sad he was over the situation."
E! News reported earlier today that investigators had found the Fox studio exec's 2000 Mercedes-Benz in a storage locker in nearby Simi Valley, a key discovery that ultimately resulted in the case being ruled a homicide.
Based on the car and subsequent evidence gathered, "we believe Gavin Smith was murdered," Lt. Dave Dolson of the Sheriff's Homicide Bureau said at a press conference this afternoon.
Dolson told reporters that they have not recovered a body and he had no comment on whether blood or other forensic evidence was in the car.
"We have an idea of his activities," the lieutenant said.
Tara tells us that she flew into Los Angeles on May 5 after being in touch with Gavin's wife for a few days regarding his disappearance. He was last seen the night of May 1 driving away from a friend's home.
"Immediately we were in touch with 20th Century Fox and their media personnel," she explained. "They got me in contact with many local media sources. I just instantly jumped into gear.
"It was something I could do," she added. "I could go out and tell people Gavin was missing and he hadn't come back. So its now the fourth day and we knew something was wrong. So I went into full media blitz, so to speak, and did as many interviews as I could and just begged reporters to put the story on TV."
Asked what her initial thoughts were as to what happened to her brother, Tara said, "I was hoping that Gavin was so upset over his sons and the fact that they were fighting and there was so much turmoil in the family and marriage that maybe, at the off chance, he wanted to leave for a few days.
"That's really where your mind goes. Your mind doesn't go to foul play because we don't think that way. We just think, Oh, they are having trauma in their life so he's probably just gone away for a few days—even though he didn't have a history of that. I just couldn't believe that he had fallen victim to a crime."
"I mean, nothing gets you more upset than thinking that your children don't like you anymore. He was very distraught over it," Tara added, recalling that Gavin's sons were angry with him due to his extramarital relationship with another woman, Chandrika Creech.
Her husband, John Creech, "remains a person of interest," Dolson said today, adding that the storage locker where Gavin's car was found was linked to Creech via a person "very closely associated" with him.
Tara said that she told her brother, the last time they texted, "to be strong and to know that the boys love you very much and even though they're not talking to him right now, they do love him and they're just angry."
Ten months later, however, Tara was not surprised by the homicide ruling, considering how much time had gone by.
She recalled Gavin's wife Lisa being "very emotional" at the time and "obviously extremely concerned."
"Lisa's sister and I, we took a drive, and spent much of the day searching everywhere we could," Tara said, discussing the initial search effort for her brother. "We looked in small ravines, rivers, in basins, the mountains, went on top of mountains, drove up and down streets. We went to psychiatric wards, we went to hospitals, posted flyers, stopped in autobody shops and looked inside...places that had old cars and maybe the car was there.
"We were just trying to find any clue."
When she learned that Gavin's car had been found on Feb. 21, "it was very shocking to me that they had it, but I was thrilled," Tara said. "I was one step closer to understanding what happened the day or the night that Gavin had disappeared."
"Bittersweet" is how she characterizes the discovery now.
"He was a wonderful father. There is no doubt, first and foremost," Tara said of Gavin. He "made some bad choices and that's unfortunate—but we all have."
Again, before he disappeared, "he was having a difficult time connecting to [his sons]," Tara said. "That's all that he cared about, was just making sure his boys knew how much he loved him...He never, ever would have deserted them. I am glad we have that type of closure for the boys."
—Additional reporting by Marcus Mulick