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Official search for missing Analy High School grad Riley Zickel suspended

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Riley Zickel Search Fund: gofundme.com/2hv5acc

Eleven days after an Analy High School graduate went missing in the Oregon wilderness, the official search for 21-year-old Riley Zickel was suspended Saturday night.

The Sheriff’s Office in Marion County, Oregon, reached the decision “after exhausting all available leads,” according to a news release from the department.

Zickel’s family vowed to continue the search on its own.

Zickel was last seen on the Pacific Crest Trail just north of Jefferson Park in the Willamette National Forest southeast of Portland. His silver Mazda SUV was found on July 30 at a trailhead near Breitenbush Lake.

The experienced backpacker is a chemistry major at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, and had headed to the Mount Jefferson Wilderness on July 27, after his summer internship came to a close. The 104,523-acre area includes more than 160 miles of trails and a 10,497-foot volcanic peak, Mount Jefferson. Zickel was expected to meet up with a friend in Seattle, but never showed.

He was reported missing July 30, after multiple attempts by friends and family to contact him failed, and the Sheriff’s Office began its search that day.

A sheriff’s spokesman declined to elaborate on the news release.

The release said the search included more than 340 people who spent 5,000 hours spanning 350 square miles of heavily forested land both north and south of Mount Jefferson. It included searchers from eight different sheriffs’ departments plus local police and firefighters, and members of state and federal agencies. Searchers focused their efforts on the areas of Mount Jefferson, Jefferson Park and Park Butte, and searched the sometimes snow-covered ground daily from light until dark.

Despite snow in the higher elevations, temperatures remained above freezing and occasionally reached into the 90s, the department said, in a search area 5,000 feet to 7,500 feet above sea level.

Helicopters and search planes flew daily across the area, missing person fliers were posted at trailheads along the Pacific Crest Trail as far south as Big Lake Youth Camp and north to Timberline Lodge — a span of almost 100 miles — and hundreds of hikers were interviewed, the department said.

Zickel’s friends and half-brother Noah Churma joined the search last week. Zickel’s father, Robin Zickel, and mother, Erin Riley, have been in Detroit, Oregon, since July 31; the town of about 200 residents has served as the search base camp.

Robin Zickel posts daily updates on his Facebook page about the search for his son. Saturday he wrote “I will not, cannot accept that he is no longer with us. ...The sheriff’s department has not made us feel optimistic based on statistics and zero evidence. The main reason they say what they do is because he was only spotted once (verified) in 10 days along the Pacific Crest Trail. That is their entire reasoning why they do not think he will be found. I am trying hard to erase all that from my mind.”

A call to Robin Zickel was not returned Sunday.

Though the search has been suspended, the Marion County Sheriff’s Department noted the case will remain open until Riley Zickel is found.

“It is a very difficult decision to withdraw resources from this search,” Sheriff Jason Myers said in the news release. “Our (search and rescue) teams and staff worked tirelessly to find Mr. Zickel. We’re very grateful for the assistance provided by our public safety partners, and our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Zickel’s family.”

Anyone with information is asked to call the Marion County Sheriff’s Office at 503-584-7724.

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 521-5205 or christi.warren@pressdemocrat.com.

Riley Zickel Search Fund: gofundme.com/2hv5acc

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