Searchers fail to find body of missing boy
Officials call off effort; many areas still under snow
May 03, 1999
The Associated Press
ROCKY POINT -- Search officials Sunday called off a two-day effort to locate the remains of Derrick Engebretson, the 8-year-old who was lost while looking for a Christmas tree last December 5.
The search began Saturday, with volunteers hoping for success now that much of the snow in the Pellican Butte area northwest of Klamath Falls has melted. More than 100 turned up Saturday, with far fewer coming Sunday.
By Sunday morning Klamath County Search and Rescue Coordinator Bud Wilson said it was time to wrap things up. A rain-snow mixture fell on the search area.
"Bring some closure to the family. That's what we're hoping," Klamath County Sheriff Carl Burkhart said Saturday.
Searchers came from Douglas, Josephine, Jackson, Lane and Klamath counties. There were also 14 dogs, including some from Portland and California.
Starting where Derrick was last seen, they searched an area three miles long and half a mile wide, up to the east side of Pelican Butte and down to West Side Road. The search plots were segregated by twine, which teenagers from the Lane County Explorer Post spread 600 feet apart for dogs to zigzag between.
"I don't doubt that we've walked over where he is a dozen times," Burkhart said. Dog experts told him in December that the snow was too deep, and with so many people trying to help last winter, it was difficult for the dogs to work.
Another searcher was Jay Darby of Jackson County, who spent seven days in December looking for Derrick. She said searchers are working to systematically eliminate areas where they know Derrick isn't. But they can't rule out areas still snow-covered, where drifts are 3 feet deep in some spots.
"We're just not finding anything," Darby said. "It's very frustrating for the family, and it's frustrating for us, too," said Darby.
Burkhart said the search would not be ended if the weekend effort got no results.
"It will always be open until we find some evidence of where the boy is," Burkhart said.
Derrick, who lived in Bonanza about 30 miles from the search site, was with his father and grandfather when he vanished. Hundreds of volunteers searched for days at the time but hope dimmed as heavy snow fell and temperatures dropped to below zero.
Family members wonder if he may have found his way to a road and been kidnapped, and have offered a reward of $20,000 for his safe return.
Authorities do not rule that out but say it is far more likely that the boy died on the mountain.
Robert Engebretson, the boy's father, admits the kidnapping possibility is far-fetched but said the inability of hundreds of searchers to find his son is equally improbable.
"I don't know how we could have missed him out there. But we must have, somehow, some way," he said.
Both he and his father took a lie-detector test several weeks ago at the request of the county. He said the results did not implicate either man. The Klamath County sheriff's office declined to discuss the matter.
Copyright © The Mail Tribune 1999, Medford, Oregon USA