Indomitable Hope: The Strange Case of Jaryd Atadero

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Allyn Atadero is no ordinary Christian.

“I am at a time in my life when I want to forgive everyone,” he stated in a recent conversation with 252. The strength of that statement is made clear from the horrific events he and his family endured 17 years ago.

Jaryd Atadero/Photo courtesy Allyn Atadero

From October 2nd through October 7th, 1999, search efforts for 3-year-old Jaryd Atadero were obstructed by bad decisions and strange events which led directly to the case growing cold. The young boy went missing while on a nature hike with a close family friend and 10 other adults along the Big South Trail, located in Poudre Canyon northwest of Fort Collins 25 minutes from a resort owned by his father Allyn. On the first day of the search, a rescue copter looking for Jaryd crashed in the mountains. Things only grew worse. Expert trackers, search and rescue teams, as well as teams with scent dogs were turned away by investigative leads, a decision that baffled and haunted many of those involved. Potent leads were also ignored, and communications with the family were virtually cut off, leaving them to glean updates from the news media. The extraordinary series of events that led to Jaryd being virtually spirited off the mountain left an endless hell of unanswered questions for the Atadero family.

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In his book Missing: When the Son Sets, a year before his son went missing, he writes, “Before summer had arrived, we had taken the bold step of putting a lighted cross in the front of the parking lot of the Poudre River Resort.” The idea was to let travelers know the resort was a safe place to ask for assistance in times of trouble.

He continues, “We had a peculiar feeling that we had started something big when that cross became a symbol of safety in the mountains. We often had stranded travelers who needed an emergency place to stay, or others who were out of gas, stop because of the cross. We believed it was our mission to help those in need, and we never charged for rendered services or rooms when people found themselves in difficult traveling situations.” During their first busy month that summer, a landslide blocked almost all travel for several weeks, and the family found it difficult to recover financially.

That same year prior to Jaryd’s disappearance, a different Christian Singles group had been hosted. He continues, “A minister, an acquaintance, suggested that we would be challenged because of our beliefs. After the Sunday morning church services, one of the Christian Singles men was involved in a motorcycle accident on the way out of the canyon. Tragedy continued to follow.”

As co-owner of the Poudre River Resort, he had once more hosted a Christian Singles Association group the weekend Jaryd vanished. One member of the group was named Janice, who had taken the Ataderos in while Allyn searched for living accommodations and teaching positions in Littleton, CO. Allyn had reluctantly let Jaryd and his 6-year-old sister Josallyn to accompany Janice and ten other adults on the hike, most of who were known to Allyn. Their initial destination was only minutes away, but group leaders decided that better hiking could be found another 11 miles down the road. Without telling Allyn, they departed. The group split into two, a fast and a slow group, with an awe-struck Jaryd traipsing in between. Janice yelled for him not to get too far ahead, but when he turned the corner to the trail, she suddenly felt fatigued and laid down on a rock with Josallyn for a nap. Several other hikers heard a distinct child’s scream, including sister Josallyn, who described it as ‘playful’. It was the last time Jaryd’s voice was heard.

To this day, that part of the case remains a puzzling clue. Why would Janice, who had been so responsible and careful in the past, now relinquish her vigil over an inexplicable fatigue? None of these scenarios were questioned by the investigative leads on the case, though Janice herself was not accomplice to any foul play. During the search, a park ranger at Mesa Verde National Park filed a sighting report at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, a 9-hour drive from Poudre Canyon, after seeing Jaryd’s photo on the news while eating dinner. He was certain he had seen the boy that day, and stated that the boy kept trying to hold his hand. A man who he had seen walking with the boy kept calling him something like “Gerald”, but thought nothing of it at the time. His statement fell on deaf ears. A friend of Allyn’s named Cindy investigated the area where Jaryd had gone missing. She happened to come across a family staying at a cabin way back in the sticks, who she said was acting suspiciously. They were painting their VW van a different color when they noticed here watching. One of them jumped into a truck and sped over to her, screaming at her to leave. She told a friend, who reported it to the sheriff. It was ignored.

Father Allyn with Jaryd’s shoes/Photo courtesy canammissing.com

A week later the search ended. Allyn had no answers. Three years and 8 months later (Jaryd himself was 3 years and 9 months old when he vanished,) his remains were found 550ft above the Big South Trail. Two theories had prevailed in the eyes of the Sheriff leading the investigation: Jaryd had fallen into the river and drowned; a mountain lion had attacked and killed him. Both of these theories were obliterated, as the clothing was found mostly intact with no blood or lion hairs present. They found the top of a child’s skull and a tooth surreptitiously placed on a log. The circumstances of this find will be covered in our interview with Allyn.

All these things are just the tip of the iceberg. Jaryd’s case has been chronicled in the popular Missing 411 series by David Paulides, a retired law-enforcement officer who profiles atypical patters of missing person cases in or near national parks and forests. The case also features heavily in Missing 411: The Movie, tentatively due this Spring. As we prepare to sit down with Allyn Atadero and discuss his experience, he’ll be filling in many gaps and presenting odder and sometimes inspiring circumstances that will make your head spin. The hardship he’s been through, however, hasn’t dulled his faith or shaken his resolve in the least.

“Jaryd’s search was filled with many mistakes,” he stated. “But in order to receive grace, I must give grace. I’ve been through hell, now I walk in peace. God’s peace.”

Allyn at peace.

That we should all be as gracious, Allyn. Stay tuned for more coverage of the Jaryd Atadero case.

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