Searchers get emotional when missing person is a child
People looking for Derrick Engebretson, 8, in the cold, snowy woods can't help but feel frustration
Friday, December 11 1998
By Gordon Gregory, Correspondent, The Oregonian
ROCKY POINT -- A glimmer of hope late in the fifth full day of an intensive search for an 8-year-old boy lost in the snow-covered mountains west of Klamath Falls raised the spirits of the small army of people struggling to find him.
A helicopter equipped with a heat-sensing device noted a "hot spot" about 2 miles north of where Derrick Engebretson was last seen Saturday afternoon. The area had not been heavily searched.
Two teams of ground searchers with dogs continued to search the area even after night descended on the mountain. But just as when similar hot spots were found earlier in the week, searchers left the mountain Thursday night without finding the boy.
"This is hard, these ups and downs," said Capt. Roger Pitts of the Klamath County Sheriff's Office. "It's just frustrating."
Many of the searchers, first-time volunteers and veteran deputies alike, felt the stress of repeated disappointments.
"I've got some of my men who have stood in there crying," said Pitts, gesturing toward a search and rescue van that has been the communication center at the staging area.
The Bonanza third-grader became lost in a heavy and sudden snowstorm Saturday afternoon while looking for Christmas trees with his father and grandfather. No one knows how long he can survive in the subfreezing temperatures.
An Oregon Army National Guard helicopter equipped with infrared gear joined the search Thursday. A private helicopter also was on the scene. A U.S. Air Force Reserve helicopter has been active in the search since Monday.
Many of the 150 or so searchers scouring the mountainside Thursday held to a faint hope that their labors still had purpose. But they all are bracing themselves for a moment they hope doesn't arrive -- if the search officially ends without finding the boy.
Pitts said the search would continue at least through Saturday. If they haven't found the boy by then, Pitts said search officials will discuss with the family what kind of effort should continue beyond that.
The termination of the search is not a decision anyone is looking forward to making.
"I feel guilty because I couldn't find him the first night," Pitts said. "It's tough. I hate it."
Dean Thomas of Klamath Falls spent the day working with a team of about 20 searchers, mostly U.S. Forest Service employees, who walked down the slopes in a long line digging through the snow.
Thomas said that he has a strong faith but that tragedies such as this put it to the test: Why does God allow an 8-year-old boy to be lost?
"I was really praying that an angel was protecting the boy and that there would be a miracle and he would be found alive, and if it was God's will that he would let us be the ones to find him," he said.
Uncomfortable thoughts were on the minds of many searchers.
Ross Williams, who works for the Fremont National Forest, said he doesn't like to imagine what Derrick has endured.
"It's pretty gruesome, really, what that poor kid went through," he said. "It's a scary thought."
Still, every person who has spent time on the cold mountainside about 20 miles south of Crater Lake National Park has surely tried to figure out what a boy caught in a blinding snowstorm at night would do.
"I just keep going through my head: What would a child of that age be thinking and what would be his fears," said searcher Jody Perozzi, who also works for the Fremont National Forest.
Following a three-hour pass through part of the mountain, which included the place Derrick was last seen, Perozzi found it difficult to talk about her feelings.
Struggling with her emotions, she said, "I wanted to believe that he was there, and we were going to find him."