Countless backpackers, trekkers, and outdoor enthusiasts frequently journey to Colorado’s expansive Big South Trail, which spans a distance of 11 miles and covers an expanse of 7,000 acres, encompassing picturesque lakes, majestic trees, and towering mountains. This trail resides within the Roosevelt National Forest and showcases trails of moderate challenge, featuring steep ascents and rugged terrains. The pathways present a formidable challenge, suitable for hikers of diverse skill levels.
Within the precincts of this national forest, one can encounter a variety of wildlife, including black bears, elk, moose, mountain goats, bobcats, and mountain lions.
Back in 1999, Jaryd Atadero, a mere three years old at the time, along with his father, Allyn, and his sister Josellin, then six years old, called Belleview, Colorado, their home. Allyn, along with his brother, was the proprietor of a mountain-side resort, which became the abode for this devoted single father and his two offspring.
In the pursuit of companionship, Allyn became a member of a Christian Singles Network group during the same year. In exchange for several nights’ stay at the lodge, eleven members of the group volunteered to assist Allyn in preparing the lodge for the impending winter by October. Agreeing to this proposition, he welcomed their help.
A Decision Amidst Natural Beauty The group collectively elected to journey to a hatchery positioned two miles away from the resort on the 21st of October. Impelled by their enthusiasm, the Atadero children beseeched their father for permission to accompany the group. Reluctantly, Allyn acquiesced, placing his trust in the integrity of the group members, though this decision would later be the source of his remorse.
During the trail, the assembly of eleven individuals dispersed, the more leisurely among them trailing behind the swifter contingent. Guided by the leadership of Jaryd, Jocellyn, and another adult, the children reveled in their hiking and play. Jaryd ventured ahead of the group, covering a distance of approximately one and a half miles into the hike. It was during this course that he encountered two fishermen, with whom he exchanged queries about the potential presence of bears.
Subsequent to this interaction, Jaryd resumed his journey along the trail.
An Ominous Cry in the Wilderness An hour later, a scream pierced the air. Jocellyn opined that it bore the hallmarks of a distressing encounter. The adults within the group swiftly grasped that Jaryd was nowhere to be found.
Devoting about an hour to the search for Jaryd, several group members returned to the lodge to apprise Allyn of his son’s disappearance.
Fueled by a mixture of anger and concern, Allyn embarked on his quest to locate his son. Despite his determined efforts, he was met with frustration. Ultimately, Allyn dialed 911, catalyzing the assembly of over 60 individuals by 6:30 in the evening, united in their collective endeavor to find the young child.
Above the lofty peaks, a helicopter engaged in the search for Jaryd encountered a crash. Remarkably, though the passengers survived, two out of five sustained grave injuries. Days stretched on in pursuit of the missing child, yielding no sign of his presence.
Drawing from the discovery of mountain lion tracks and the memory of the cries that had reverberated through the air earlier that day, the conclusion was reached that Jaryd had likely fallen victim to a mountain lion attack. It’s important to note that attacks by mountain lions are exceptionally rare; dating back to 1915, there have been merely 14 recorded fatal incidents in the United States and Canada combined.
On the 28th of October, the search was reluctantly suspended.
In the Absence of Clues Amidst a proliferation of divergent hypotheses, a shared consensus emerged: the likelihood of Jaryd’s survival at that juncture was minimal. Some conjectured that he might have become prey to a wildlife encounter, fallen into one of the lakes, or even succumbed to sinister forces. Speculation even turned towards the possibility of abduction, perhaps orchestrated by the two fishermen who had observed Jaryd that day as he raced ahead of the group along the trail.
The years flowed by, marked by an absence of any trace of Jaryd. It was assumed that the boy’s remains had been claimed by the wilderness, destined never to be uncovered.
Discovery Amidst the Wilderness Then, on the 6th of May, 2003, two enterprising businessmen, embarked on a forest hike, stumbled upon a child’s shoe and a brown fleece jacket about 500 meters off the trail. The shoe was remarkably well-preserved, while the jacket bore evidence of punctures. Continuing their exploration, they encountered a second shoe and a pair of tattered, inside-out blue jeans, unmistakably belonging to a child. Notably, one leg of the jeans had suffered significant damage.
These articles of clothing were promptly turned over to the authorities, who confirmed their affiliation with Jaryd through Allyn. Subsequent searches led to the discovery of a child’s skull and molar tooth.
Though more than a decade had elapsed, DNA testing eventually confirmed that these remnants were indeed those of young Jaryd.
Despite forensic examinations failing to identify mountain lion-related evidence, such as hairs, blood, or DNA, the prevailing assumption was that Jaryd had fallen victim to a mountain lion attack. Experts in the field postulated that the boy’s abdomen region would have been targeted, an area that remained undisturbed on Jaryd’s remains, with his clothing potentially repurposed by the lions for their nests.
Over two decades later, the circumstances surrounding Jaryd’s demise continue to defy explanation, shrouding his fate in perpetual mystery, destined to remain forever unknown.