Derrick James Engebretson

Friday, March 03, 2006

Volunteers renew search for missing boy

Volunteers renew search for missing boy



ROCKY POINT — Gone without a trace.

Nearly four years ago, 8-year-old Derrick Engebretson got lost in the woods while searching for a Christmas tree with his father and grandfather near Pelican Butte.

Hundreds of people joined in a desperate search after Derrick’s disappearance on Dec. 8, 1998. They never found so much as a shred of clothing.

Saturday, a Molalla man continued the search, but to no avail.

Billy Crabtree, founder and director of a private search organization called REACT of Oregon, believes the key to Derrick’s fate might be found in a shallow inlet near Malone Springs Road. Four years ago there was a hole in the ice, and a child’s footprint on the bank.

According to Klamath County Sheriff’s Office Detective John Dougherty, the hole in the ice was discovered at the time of the initial search.

“The hole in the ice was discovered by Ben Davis, the missing boy’s grandfather,” Dougherty said last week. “Divers were put in the the next day. An additional search was done in the area during the spring thaw.”

The missing boy’s mother, Lori Engebretson, said the hole in the ice was discovered 16 days after he became missing.

“We don’t know for a fact it was Derrick,” she said. “But something went through it, it froze back over, and there were footprints there that were old. A kid’s footprints.”

If it was Derrick, a clue that remain after four years would be the hatchet he was carrying when he disappeared. If a hatchet were found in the sediment of the inlet, it could indicate that the boy died there.

On Saturday, Portland diver Jeff Preece spent several hours carefully working his way through the shallow water and the deep muck.

Using a metal detector designed to work underwater, Preece found several metal objects, including an oil filter and a metal road sign.

But no hatchet.

Lori Engebretson said she appreciated the effort by Preece and Crabtree, who also conducted a search of the area a week earlier.

“Any effort to find my son, I feel 100 percent wonderful about,” she said. “I really thank Billy and his crew for what they’ve done, what they’re still doing and what they will continue to do.”

Crabtree has not charged the Engebretsons for his work in their behalf, but does have a Web site that can accept donations.

Crabtree was among the volunteers who searched for two missing Oregon City girls earlier this year. He even created two Web sites dedicated to finding the girls. Crabtree has a Web site-design business.

The girls’ remains were discovered last summer under a neighbor’s backyard.

“We are becoming hand-tailored for missing children cases,” Crabtree said. “We work solely off of donations.” As many as 20 volunteers have worked in the past with Crabtree.

“Derrick’s family deserves answers,” Crabtree said. “And those we’ll work on and try to provide, by whatever means it takes.”

Another theory mulled by Crabtree is the possibility that Derrick was kidnapped, which could explain why no trace of the boy has been found in the area where he was last seen.

Crabtree discounts that the boy was the victim of predatory animal, such as a cougar or a bear, because some trace of his body, his clothing, or the hatchet would likely have been found by now.

Robert Engebretson, Derrick’s father, spent countless hours in the spring of 1999 on the mountain, after the snows had melted.

He even examined animal droppings he found, thinking he might see something in them, perhaps a fingernail.

“After the initial search, I spent eight weeks up here, every day looking,” said Robert Engebretson, a mill worker at Jeld-Wen. “If he would have been on the mountain, even being lost, I think he would have been hacking away on trees up there. I never found any trace of that.”

Anyone with any information about the disappearance of Derrick Engebretson is urged to call the Klamath County Sheriffs Department at 883-5130.

To contact REACT of Oregon call (971) 570-3519, or visit

“I can’t thank people of this community enough for what they did at the time it happened,” said Robert Engebretson. “I want them to know that I love every one of them that was up here at the time.”

Reporter Brian Cole covers public safety and courts. He can be reached at 885-4416 or (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at

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