Missing Analy High School grad Riley Zickel grew up with a passion for the outdoors
Years of family camping trips and a childhood spent in the outdoors evolved into a passion for hiking and backpacking for Riley Zickel, a 21‑year‑old Analy High School graduate still missing one week after he left for an overnight trip into an Oregon national forest.
Zickel was introduced to backcountry trips by his older half-brother, Noah, said Riley’s father, Robin Zickel. “Riley just loved it and started buying his own really good gear.
“He spends all his money at REI and off he goes.”
An undergraduate student at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Riley Zickel is a chemistry major who also studies music and plays in orchestra and jazz groups for the school, according to his father. Last year, he studied abroad in Berlin.
He was born at his family’s Litchfield Avenue home just south of downtown Sebastopol and raised in the west county town. He attended the alternative Sunridge charter school and then Analy High. A standout bass player, Riley’s talent, demonstrated while performing in the high school’s extensive orchestra, helped him earn a partial music scholarship to Lewis and Clark, a private liberal arts college.
On a break from school late last Tuesday night, Zickel left his Portland home and drove southeast a few hours to the Willamette National Forest near Mount Jefferson to backpack. He’d been expected to meet a friend in Seattle on Friday but didn’t show, according to family.
Relatives began to grow increasingly worried as last week wore on and they couldn’t reach him.
Robin Zickel said he texted his younger son Thursday and tried to call him later that night. He tried again on Friday, but never heard back.
Saturday, his ex-wife contacted him, asking if he’d heard from their son. The friend who Riley had planned to meet had contacted Riley’s college roommate, who contacted the family. A missing person’s report was filed Saturday with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, prompting the search. His car was found Saturday night, parked near a trailhead.
On Sunday, his parents flew to Oregon.
“We were thinking Saturday, maybe they’re going to find him,” Robin Zickel said. “And then by Sunday we said ‘That’s it. We’re gone. We’re going in.’ ”
Noah Churma, 37, was in San Diego with friends, celebrating his birthday, when news broke of his missing half-brother. Robin Zickel said they were expecting him to fly into Oregon Wednesday to help with search efforts.
Monday’s search had ramped up to more than 60 people from multiple law enforcement agencies and included search dogs using his scent from a jacket taken from Riley’s car, according to a Facebook posting by a family friend providing search updates. A few people reported possibly seeing him, but sheriff’s officials said as of Tuesday, there have been no confirmed sightings.
On Tuesday the search involved 30 people including equestrians, air patrol and hikers, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
By late Tuesday afternoon, searchers had finished combing the Mount Jefferson area in the Willamette National Forest and turned their focus north to Park Butte and the Pacific Crest Trail, sheriff’s officials said.
The trail is a popular long‑distance hiking route stretching from Mexico to Canada through central Oregon. Search officials believed it was possible Zickel may have picked up that route and headed toward Mount Hood, his father said.
The search continued Wednesday.
“We were hoping — I just really thought we would have news (Monday) night or (Tuesday), but he’s a fast mover, so if he’s still hiking around he’s moving quickly, which makes it hard to find him,” his father said, estimating Zickel could be hiking 15 to 20 miles a day. “That’s probably what he did. He likes to push himself.”
Sheriff’s officials were asking anyone with information to call a tip line at 503‑584‑SRCH.
Meanwhile, Zickel’s parents remain close to the search command center in Detroit, Oregon, a tiny community of about 200 people west of the Mount Jefferson wilderness area. They need to stay in cellphone range, said Robin Zickel.
The small community focus has contributed to the search, with residents and businesses providing food for searchers as well as moral support for the parents.
The support has been tremendous, Robin Zickel said. “I feel like I’m always going to owe the people of Detroit something."