OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — More than 100 search and rescue volunteers from across Western Washington searched along the Sol Duc River on Saturday in hopes of finding Bellevue resident Jacob Gray — who has been missing since early April — and providing answers for his family.
Volunteers, most of whom are search and rescue professionals, split into 10 ground teams, eight dog teams and one swift-water team.
Many said they had never seen a search and rescue operation as large as the one Saturday.
Gray’s mother, Laura Gray of Bellevue, said seeing the response is humbling and that she couldn’t find the words to express her gratitude for those looking for her 22-year-old son.
He was last seen April 5, a day before his bike and camping gear were found in the brush 6.5 miles up Sol Duc Hot Springs Road.
Laura was terrified of what searchers would find Saturday and was overwhelmed with emotion, saying Saturday’s search is what makes it “real” for her.
She said feelings of fear, hope, anger, sadness, gratitude and terror were all surfacing at the same time as the search was beginning.
“It’s not just us going through the mountain on our own, looking and looking and you don’t really think you’re going to find anything,” she said. “This changes it.”
Cadaver dogs alerted handlers in three separate locations, though no evidence of Gray was found, said Clallam County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Lyman Moores, who headed the effort Saturday.
Moores said searchers did find a bone fragment, though it wasn’t known if it was human.
More than 100 people worked to cover about 10 miles of river, he said.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office and Olympic National Park were joined by teams from Snohomish, Kitsap, Pierce, Mason and Jefferson counties and by volunteers from the Clallam Bay and Olympic corrections centers’ Inmate Recovery Team, Olympic Mountain Rescue, Northwest Search Dogs, Olympic Project/Ridgewalkers Unlimited and a local ATV club.
The river was split into eight zones, and canine teams were sent to cover both sides of the river.
Ground crews also covered the river on both sides and a swift-water team focused on areas that a body or debris would have likely ended up, Moores said.
“I think it’s going to be today [Saturday],” he said. “I think we have a really good probability of finding him today or finding some sort of evidence of remains.”
Crews continued to search for Jacob late Saturday.
No search was planned today. Moores said if Jacob wasn’t found after Saturday’s effort, there likely wouldn’t be another large-scale search. He hoped Saturday’s effort could provide closure for Jacob’s family.
It was the largest search for a missing person in many years in Clallam County, he said.
Moores has been with the county search and rescue team for at least 15 years and with the Sheriff’s Office for 29 years and couldn’t recall any similar-sized searches.
“This is the biggest search I’ve been involved in,” he said. “This is definitely the biggest search we’ve had [in recent years].”
Randy Gray of Santa Cruz, Calif., Jacob’s father, said seeing the number of people searching for his son was surreal.
Though his son disappeared nearly four months ago, Randy said he is still hoping he is alive and figuring out his life like he set forth to do.
“I don’t think there’s a parent that’s in our situation that wouldn’t want to have that point of view, that their son is still alive because you want to see him,” he said.
Randy, who searched relentlessly in the weeks following his son’s disappearance, hopes Jacob’s story will be a catalyst that tightens response times for people missing in national parks.
“I see this as being something changing the whole aspect of search and rescue and more lives will be saved because of what’s happening now,” he said.
He hopes that for future missing people, there are larger-scale searches the day after someone is discovered to be missing.
Randy said he is thankful for the work Olympic Mountain Rescue Team has put in searching for Jacob. Since May they, have covered over 300 miles in search of any evidence of Jacob.
Moores thanked Derek Randles of Olympic Mountain Response Team for allowing many of the volunteers to stay on his property near Sol Duc Hot Springs Road on Friday night.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].