Family waits, hopes for sign of Olympic National Park hiker missing for more than two months
Bryan Johnston and his wife, Susan Johnston, are shown with their granddaughter, Carly Sue Walker, 4, earlier this year. -- Photo by Kelly Hubbard
By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News
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Susan Johnston trusts in God.
Jinny Longfellow prays and waits for a knock at the door.
Debra Griffith tries to be philosophical.
Kelly Hubbard fills her Facebook page with family photos and contacts news media.
Some of these women don't know each other well, even though they are all family.
But they did know Bryan Lee Johnston.
And when the 71-year-old man from the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle vanished in Olympic National Park in August, in the words of Hubbard, his 49-year-old daughter, “I wanted the world to stop.”
Johnston told his family the evening of Aug. 21 that he planned a two-or-three-day trip to the Ozette area of the park, got up early the next morning, left his sleeping wife a note and took the Edmonds-Kingston ferry across the water.
He never returned.
The last person to see Johnston was possibly a cashier in a Port Angeles Safeway store — where the surveillance tape shows he bought a sandwich, fruit and a couple of water bottles, Hubbard said — or a waitress in Traylor's Restaurant in Port Angeles.
Investigators checked both places after finding receipts in Johnston's truck, finding nothing to explain what happened.
And that's where the trail ends.
“We haven't found anything,” Barb Maynes, park spokeswoman, said Friday.
An intensive search began after his family reported him missing Aug. 28.
It was called off after at least 50 people and several dog teams combed the Ozette Loop Trail and surrounding areas for three days but turned up no sign of the missing man.
About a week after the primary search ended, the park had several teams of dogs go over the same ground, Maynes said.
“There were no clues, no alerts,” she said.
Rangers handed out flyers with Johnston's photograph and description and interviewed hikers on the Ozette trail, which is “one of the most well-frequently traveled trails in the park,” Maynes said.
Nobody had seen the 5-foot, 10-inch tall man, described as having white hair worn in a ponytail, blue eyes and wearing blue jeans.
He was probably carrying a camera and a black day pack, Hubbard said, adding that he had left his jacket in his truck.
Rangers are still hoping to find some clue, Maynes said.
In any case, “we don't close a case until we can make a determination of what happened,” Maynes said.
Members of his family aren't giving up either.
“I think he is protected,” Susan Johnston, Bryan's wife since 1980 and his partner in Shekinah Glory Ministry, said from their home Saturday.
“I don't think he's dead,” she said. “I think he's there somewhere and we need to find Bryan.”
Hubbard counts the days since she had expected him to return from his hike. Today is the 65th day, according to her reckoning.
She has traveled from her Graham home to visit her 66-year-old mother, Susan, for three or four days every other week.
She keeps up her Facebook posts and recently contacted the Ballard News-Tribune, which published a story last week, and sent family photos to the Peninsula Daily News on Friday.
“When you don't know anything, what can you do but be as loud as I can be?' Hubbard said.
“I'm not going to give up until I get some answers.”
Longfellow, 86, brought the PDN photos of her younger brother soon after he disappeared, saying she felt he was still alive and that she awaited his knock at the door of her Port Angeles home.
“I'm just not going to give up,” she repeated Friday. “I know it's a waiting game.”
Longfellow said a paranormal researcher talked to her about the possibility of UFOs having something to do with her brother's disappearance.
“I told him I hadn't even thought about that, but if a spaceship came anywhere near my brother, he'd be the first one aboard,” Longfellow said.
Longfellow's daughter, Griffith, said it's hard to have no closure.
“I want to hang onto hope,” said Griffith, 62, who also lives in Port Angeles.
“You just got to believe that angels are keeping him safe or taking him home.”
Words the women use to describe Bryan Johnston include caring, meticulous, thoughtful, something of a loner, and brilliant.
“He is just an amazing person. Very caring, thoughtful, always giving back,” Hubbard told the News-Tribune.
He renovated the entire house in Ballard, the newspaper said, having bought the 101-year-old place in 1975 from his parents, who had it themselves since 1943, when Bryan was 6 months old.
He also had built a place called Rimrock near Moses Lake, Hubbard said.
“He created everything himself, from power to water — he did it all,” Hubbard said.
He attended Adams Elementary and graduated from Ballard High School in 1960.
After earning a bachelor's in 1966 from the University of Washington, he served in the Air Force until 1970 and then worked in Seattle City Light until he retired.
Johnston has three other daughters, all living out of state. He also has another sister in Port Angeles, Hubbard said. That sister did not immediately return a call for comment.
Johnston is one of at least four people who have disappeared in the park without a trace in the last 21 years, according to columnist Seabury Blair Jr.
■ Stefan Bissert, a 23-year-old German exchange student and Fulbright scholar at Oregon State University, vanished in January 1992 after he set off on a solo day hike from Sol Duc Hot Springs over High Divide and out to the Hoh River trailhead.
■ John Devine, 73, of Sequim, disappeared in September 1997. He had intended to hike into the park from Mount Baldy in Olympic National Forest.
■ Deputy Director of the state Department of Retirement Systems Gilbert Gilman, 43, of Olympia, disappeared in June 2006 in the Staircase area.
No trace was found of any of these men.
“It's mind-boggling how people can disappear in a blink of an eye,” Hubbard said.
“My mom — her whole foundation, her whole world, has been ripped out from under her.”
Susan Johnston said that her husband “did everything for me. I haven't written a check since 1980 when I married this man. He ran the household, everything — he was the brains.
She said she waited to report him missing because she thought he might have visited relatives in Port Angeles.
“So here I am, I can't find my husband, and I need everybody on board for this one. He's got to be here somewhere.”
Anyone who has seen Bryan Johnston or has information regarding his whereabouts is asked to phone Olympic National Park at 360-565-3120.
Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zachariah Bryan of the Ballard News-Tribune contributed to this report.
Last modified: October 27. 2013 2:12AM