Backpackers, hikers, and campers often head by the thousands to Colorado’s Big South Trail, eager to take in the views and try their hand at its 11 miles and 7,000 acres of lakes, trees, and mountains, with moderately difficult trails with steep inclines and rocky areas located in the Roosevelt National Forest. Even more experienced hikers find the trails difficult.
Elks, bobcats, moose, mountain goats, mountain lions, and Black bears are among the wildlife that calls the national forest home.
In 1999, 3-year-old Jaryd Atadero and his dad, Allyn, and 6-year-old sister Josellin lived in Belleview, Colorado. Allyn and his brother owned a resort by the mountains where Allyn lived with his two children as a single father.
In early 1999, Allyn joined a Christian Singles Network Group looking for companionship. By October of the year, 11 members of the group made an offer to help Allyn prepare the lodge for the upcoming winter in exchange for a few nights at the lodge. He agreed.
On Oct. 21, the group decided to visit a fish and chicken hatchery about two miles from the resort. The Atadero children begged their dad for permission to go with the group. Reluctantly, Allyn agreed as he did trust the members of the group, a decision he would forever live to regret.
A Hike on Big South Trail
All went well during the chicken hatchery visit. Afterward and without Allyn’s permission to take the young kids, the group decided to travel on to the Big South Trail for a hike.
The group of 11 split up on the trail with the slower members trailing slightly behind the rest. Jaryd and Jocellyn led the group with another adult. The kids played and enjoyed the hike. About one and one-half miles into the hike, Jaryd ran ahead of the group. He ran into two fishermen and asked if there were any bears around.
Jaryd took on down the trail after this conversation.
An hour later, the group heard a scream. Jocellyn decided it sounded like someone was getting attacked. The adults in the group realized Jaryd was missing.
Where is Jaryd?
The group searched for Jaryd for about an hour. A few members headed back to the lodge to inform Allyn that his son was missing.
Infuriated but concerned about his son, Allyn headed to search for him. Allyn called the police after the unsuccessful search for his son. By 6:30 p.m. more than 60 people gathered to search for the toddler.
A helicopter searching for Jaryd above the mountain crashed. Though the passengers survived, two of the five were seriously injured. Days of searching passed by with no signs of Jaryd.
After searchers found mountain lion tracks, the group thought back to the screams they heard earlier that day and presumed that one of the cats had attacked Jaryd. Mountain lion attacks are extremely rare. Only 14 fatal attacks have been recorded in the US and Canada since 1915.
On October 28, searchers suspended their search.
Theories began to swirl, although everyone agreed on one thing: Jaryd was unlikely alive by this point. Some people wonder if Jaryd was attacked by an animal, if maybe he had fallen into the lakes, or if other sinister acts were responsible for Jaryd’s disappearance. Some people suspected Jaryd had been kidnapped, perhaps by the two fishermen who saw him on the trail running ahead of the group that day.
Years went by without any traces of Jaryd. People presumed wildlife found the young boy before them that day and assumed his remains were forever gone.
Jaryd’s Remains Found
Then, on May 6, 2003, two businessmen on a hiking trip in the forest found a child’s shoe and a brown fleece jacket about 500 meters off the trail. The shoe was in near-perfect condition. The jacket appeared to have puncture marks. The men continued their hike and wandered upon another shoe and a pair of tattered child’s blue jeans turned inside out. One of the legs of the jeans was nearly torn away.
Police sent photos of the clothing to Allyn who verified they belonged to Jaryd.
When the search resumed, police found a molar tooth and a skull belonging to a child.
More than a decade passed before DNA finally confirmed the tooth and skull belonged to little Jaryd.
Everyone assumed Jaryd had been attacked by a mountain lion, although forensic labs confirmed there was no presence of mountain lion hairs, blood, or DNA. Mountain lion experts said if a mountain lion had attacked the boy, it would have attacked him in the abdomen region -which clothing was fully intact in this area on Jaryd- and would have taken his clothing to use for their nests.
More than 20 years on, the dea*th of Jaryd remains a mystery and no one knows what happened to the precious little boy -and likely never will.