Doris Stevens hadn’t heard from her son Ronald Wayne White since 2016 and said she grew concerned when he didn’t answer her phone call on his birthday in April 2017
The family of a retired Navy chief has been left heartbroken and confused after his body was discovered on the floor of his Texas apartment, close to three years after he had died.
Doris Stevens is struggling to come to terms with the mysterious death of her son Ronald Wayne White, who she said had been missing since 2016, WFAA reports.
“I can’t hardly cope with it, to be honest with you,” she told the outlet. “I can’t get past three years. … I can’t hardly deal with it.”
Last week, White’s body was found on the kitchen floor of his DeSoto Town Center apartment by maintenance workers looking to solve a water issue, an officer with the DeSoto Police Department confirms to PEOPLE.
“Maintenance men were trying to get into the apartment because they noticed that the water usage was non-existent for some time, so they suspected that there was some type of issue with the water main,” the officer explains.
When the workers attempted to enter the residence, the officer says they noticed it was dead-bolted from the inside.
“They forced entry into the apartment and that’s when they found the deceased in his kitchen on the floor,” the officer continues, adding that they immediately called the police who arrived at the scene and “noticed that his decomposition was advanced.”
“He had been there obviously for some time,” the officer notes. “There were cobwebs and dead bugs all over the apartment.”
The Medical Examiner who arrived at the scene later determined that there were no signs of foul play and that White’s decomposition “appeared to be over two years old, closer to three.” He would have been 51 at the time of his death.
The gruesome discovery came as a major shock to Stevens, despite her growing concern of her son’s whereabouts since he missed her phone call on his birthday in April 2017.
“My son would call me at least twice a month,” the Long Island, New York resident told WFAA, adding that White — who worked for a defense contractor and traveled often — made contact with his mother no matter where he was in the world.
“He would call me from Egypt. He would call me from the Philippines. He would call me right from Dallas,” she said.
When her son didn’t answer her phone call in April 2017, Stevens said could not afford a private investigator, but conducted a search of White’s previous addresses — his most recent being in Glenn Heights, Texas — but nothing turned up.
Stevens also claimed that multiple police departments refused to pursue a missing person case because White was an adult and traveled often. (The officer with DeSoto Police tells PEOPLE that their department does not operate this way and that they file a missing person case as soon as it’s reported.)
“All them days, holidays, I just suffered,” Stevens told WFAA. “Because nobody wanted to help find him.”
However, everything changed last week when Stevens finally got word of where her son had been all these years.
“When the medical examiner told me three years, my knees gave away. Three years? And that’s what I can’t get past in my brain,” she recalled. “My biggest question is, how in the world could my son have been dead in that apartment and nobody knows anything?”
Stevens also told WFAA that she and White’s adult children had no idea the Navy veteran, who was single after getting divorced nearly 20 years ago, had been living there.
The only sign that may have pointed at some troubling circumstances was about two years ago when a neighbor living below White’s apartment complained of a leak from the ceiling.
The DeSoto officer confirms that maintenance did try to check on the leak, but when they arrived at White’s door, they did not receive an answer. At this time, it is unclear what happened after that point.
A spokesperson for DeSoto Town Center could not disclose that information when contacted by PEOPLE.
When officers finally made their way into White’s residence last week, they located several expired bottles of medication for his diabetes.
White’s pickup truck, a gray Ford F-150, was covered in dust in the public parking area of the DeSoto Town Center parking garage, according to WFAA.
The DeSoto Officer also tells PEOPLE that a number of receipts were found in White’s wallet, dating back to early November 2016 — just a few weeks before he had moved into the apartment complex.
“Based on when he moved in, [around]October 25, and the last receipt was [dated]November 6 or 7, it appears that he wasn’t even there two weeks before some medical condition or something happened to him that caused him to fall from the chair and remain unresponsive,” the officer says.
While no cause of death has been determined from the autopsy, the officer believes “it’s gonna be pretty hard to do, after three years of decomposition.”
“No family member that we know of reached out to us to check on him, to check his welfare,” the officer says. “We’re waiting for answers just to see what [the apartment’s]protocols are, in terms of checking on their residences and what they did.”
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In a statement to PEOPLE, the spokesperson for DeSoto Town Center said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Mr. White during this difficult time.”
“Mr. White was frequently out of the country and his bills were paid through automatic withdrawals from his accounts,” they continued. “Our maintenance personnel discovered his body when they identified and responded to a service issue at his apartment. We are cooperating with the police as they investigate this incident.”
When asked about how White was able to renew his lease each year, the spokesperson added, “All we can determine is that the issues that would normally trigger a welfare check — non-payment of rent, a full mailbox, inquiries from family members or employers or concerned neighbors — did not take place in this case.”
“There was the unusual situation of Mr. White’s rent continuing to be paid automatically and his frequent travel that did not lead to a welfare check at his apartment,” the spokesperson said.