Two weeks after Riley Zickel disappeared into the Oregon wilderness, and 12 days after a search for the Analy High School grad began, his family is heading back to California without him.
In a Facebook posting Wednesday morning, Riley Zickel’s dad Robin Zickel thanked the community for its support, saying that he, along with Riley Zickel’s mom, Erin Riley, and half-brother, Noah Churma, would leave the small town of Detroit, Oregon today. The family had been staying in the town of about 200 people, which served as the base for the search, since July 31. The missing person report was filed the day before.
“I will be leaving Detroit today with great gratitude for the love and support we have received from the people of Detroit and from the people who have tried so hard to rescue (Riley),” Robin Zickel wrote in his post. “What we have learned from this very hard lesson is that Riley has shown us that the most important thing is to show love and compassion to one another.”
Riley Zickel, 21, an experienced backpacker and chemistry major at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, headed to the Mount Jefferson Wilderness southeast of Portland on July 27 for an overnight backpacking trip. He was supposed to meet up with a friend in Seattle, but never showed.
Cheryl Alterman, a family friend who has known Riley Zickel for eight years, has been in constant contact with Robin Zickel.
“The forest was (Riley’s) favorite place, and if that was his way to go, then he’s probably in the happiest place that he can be,” she said. “Sonoma County has just banded together, and I cannot tell you how proud I am to be part of this community, and seeing the love and all the support pouring out is just phenomenal. It doesn’t happen everywhere.”
Lt. Chris Baldridge, with the sheriff’s office in Marion County, Oregon, said although the sheriff’s office no longer has dedicated searchers on the ground looking for Riley Zickel, the search remains open, and the sheriff’s office will continue investigating tips until he is found.
“After a period of time has gone by, we’ll go back and recheck some of the areas,” he said. “I wish we had better news. ... It’s — I think it’s the hardest thing for us to have to look the family in their face after getting to know them for eight-plus days, and letting them know we can’t find their child.”
The search effort was briefly re-energized Sunday when a volunteer helicopter pilot from Chico, who has helped two other Bay Area families search for missing loved ones, swept over Mount Jefferson in search of clues.
The pilot, Jim Higgins, has declined to comment, but delivered a tip after his flight to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, that it, with the help of climbers from the Corvallis Mountain Rescue Team, acted on.
Climbers hiked to an elevation of 9,000 feet on the glacier-capped peak, where they checked a crevasse where Higgins thought he saw something, but they found nothing.
“Riley was a special kid,” Alterman said. “He’s an old soul. He’s 21, but you would never know it, and his smile entered the room before he did. He is the guy that every mother hopes their daughter can marry. I know his heart is brightening up the forest.”
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeaWarren.