The Big South Trail off Highway 14 in Poudre Canyon, CO, approximately 48 miles west of Fort Collins.
Jaryd Atadero (3) went missing while on a group hike with familiar and unfamiliar individuals present.
Larimer County Sheriff’s Office
On Saturday, October 2nd of 1999, Allyn Atadero hosted a Christian Singles Network group at his resort in Poudre Canyon, which lies approximately 45 minutes west of Fort Collins, CO. At approximately 9:00AM, the group decided to go on a spur-of-the-moment hike around a nearby fish hatchery 5 miles further west of Poudre River Resort. It was at this time that Allyn’s 6-year-old daughter Josallyn came up to her father and asked him if she could “go see the fish.” Josallyn would be accompanying a close family friend and member of the group, who we will refer to as Janet. Allyn was under the impression they would be spending time at the hatchery, knew the area was easy to hike, and gave Josallyn permission to go with Janet.
Approximately 10 minutes later, Jaryd came up to his father with the same request. Allyn was initially resistant to the idea, but was reassured by several members of the group that they would be watchful of him. Allyn reluctantly agreed to let Jaryd accompany Janet and Josallyn to the fish hatchery.
The group then made their way to the hatchery, but expressed dissatisfaction with the area and wanted to go to an actual trailhead, and without alerting Allyn, stopped briefly at Poudre Falls before moving on. The group arrived at the Big South Trail at 10:30AM, approximately 16.5 miles from the resort. The Big South Trail is a gorgeous hiking area that runs along the Cache La Poudre River. Despite it’s beautiful scenery, the trail is not a place fit for children to hike, with treacherous slopes and vast areas where serious injury could occur.
It is important to note that no one had been introduced to one another and there was no organization to the group. According to statements in the Larimer County Sheriff’s Report, the hikers split up into three groups. The first and second groups began their hike around 10:40AM, and the last group around 10:50AM.
Jaryd was an energetic 3-year-old who was excited to be in the wilderness. According to the Sheriff’s report, he charged up the trail away from Janet, who assumed the other members would help retain him until she caught up. One woman who was heading up the trail in front of Janet yelled to Jaryd not to get too far ahead, to which he replied, “Okay.”
As they made their way up the trail, the groups stopped and took in scenery from time to time. Two fishermen came up through the group, passing them and Jaryd. Jaryd ran up to them and followed them until they disappeared around a curve. One of the group members once again told him not to get too far ahead, and mentioned to the others that someone needed to keep a better eye on the boy. However, after saying this, the group went back to talking with one another and they lost sight of him. This was around 11:20AM, 40 minutes after the first two groups made their way onto the trail. The woman who told Jaryd to stay close would later state that at around 11:30AM, she became concerned for his whereabouts and the group began stopping and listening for sounds.
Jaryd and the fishermen parted ways as the two went down to the river to fish and Jaryd stayed on the trail. Jaryd later found them again fly fishing in the Cache La Poudre River, and asked them if there were any bears in the woods. They replied there weren’t, not wanting to scare the boy as they were aware the area could be host to such wildlife. Jaryd allegedly nodded and went back onto the trail. The fishermen simply let him go.
Details become confusing at this point. After Jaryd had encountered the fishermen, he made his way to an area next to a boulder field in the direction of Peterson Lake which lay another five or six miles down the trail. Sometime between 11:30am and 12:00pm, the hikers heard a child’s cry or scream. Though some initially interpreted it as a playful scream, others said he sounded scared.
They began to search the trail. Along the Big South are a number of campsites nestled above the trail. Jaryd was last seen somewhere around Campsite #2 or #3. The hikers encountered several more people along the trail and inquired if they had seen Jaryd. None had. One of them, a woman who had come with her husband, had gone for a run on the trail while he fished the river and encountered the group looking for Jaryd. She saw no one suspicious nor did she see Jaryd. The fishermen later said they had seen an older couple going up the trail with fishing equipment. They, too, had seen nothing of Jaryd or anyone who appeared suspicious.
The group departed back to the resort to tell Allyn they had lost Jaryd.
After Allyn learned what had happened and how far they had gone, he grabbed a walkie-talkie and departed for the trail. Butch, the resort manager, called search and rescue immediately. Allyn ran up the trailhead calling for Jaryd with every familiar name he could think if (Jaryd, J-Rod, Bro, etc.). He ran roughly a quarter mile onto the trail and was overwhelmed by the vastness of the area. He eventually retreated down to the trailhead to make sure his daughter Josallyn was safe and secure. As he got to the trailhead, deputies arrived with Josallyn and began taking statements with another moving up the trail searching for Jaryd. Search and rescue arrived shortly thereafter.
A series of inexplicable events occurred over the following week. A search and rescue team flying in from Wyoming crashed their helicopter along the trail due to flying too low over the river. The Sheriff in charge of the search refused virtually all communication with the family, and threatened them with arrest if they tried to aid the search. The Ataderos were forced to rely on the Colorado press to learn any new developments on the case. Experienced teams of tracking dogs and their handlers, as well as many SAR volunteers, were turned away without taking names or numbers.
Potent leads were also ignored. In particular, the morning after Jaryd vanished a sighting was reported in Mesa Verde National Park by a ranger who saw Jaryd’s photo on the news. A little boy kept running up to him wanting to hold his hand, which Allyn recognized as a personality trait of Jaryd’s. The boy was with a man who called him something that sounded like “Gerald” and would call him back over to him. This lead was completely ignored by authorities, despite their claim of having contacted the ranger.
Two trackers with military backgrounds were given resistance as well. One, an Army Ranger going by the call sign ‘Seaux’, tracked Jaryd’s last known point to a high ridge above the trail. The Sheriff refused to send anyone up, saying a helicopter had already been up there and found nothing (this location becomes integral later.) The second tracker, a Green Beret, wasn’t allowed up the trail. A well-known author in the state of Colorado, he threatened to use his press connections to pressure the sheriff. He was subsequently let up the trail to look for sign.
At one point, Allyn received a phone call from someone identifying themselves as working for the Sheriff’s office, but refused to give their name. He told Allyn that he wasn’t being told the truth, and when the true facts of the case come out they would identify themselves and stand by Allyn to corroborate these revelations. He never heard from this individual again.
Despite international coverage and the efforts of some of the best SAR teams in the state, Jaryd was never found. In front of the cameras, the sheriff pushed the theory of a mountain lion attack. Behind the scenes, he told the Ataderos that Jaryd had drowned in the river, and that it would take 5 years for his body to surface due to the water being so cold. Just a little over a week after the search began, all efforts were called off and the case rendered inactive.
Many lives were shaken to their core during the search. Rod ‘Seaux’ Larreau returned to the trail a year later and once again found all the sign he had tracked before, but the difficult terrain prevented him from completing his mission. To this day he has no answers for what happened. The many good men and women involved in the search expressed deep frustration with the the way the case was handled. The Atadero family stood strong despite their tragic loss.
A Stunning Turn of Events
In June of 2003, two hikers deviated from the Big South Trail and ascended an extremely difficult Talus slope to the ridge above. After a long trek, one of the hikers called to the other claiming to have found something belonging to Jaryd. It was a shoe matching the style Jaryd was wearing the day he vanished. They also found his jacket, pants, and the other shoe. No human remains were found at this time. The location at which they recovered these items as 35ft to the left of where ‘Seaux’ attempted to point out to the sheriff. This site is located 550 vertical feet above the trail. The actual ground distance is 1500ft. A far cry from the river.
A press conference was called. The mountain lion theory was pushed to the press, but others were skeptical. Fox news consulted Dr. Michael Baden, a highly respected medical examiner, who commented extensively on the lack of human remains at the site. He stated that you would find small bones in the shoes, and would at least find a tooth. A week later, a forensics team called NecroSearch ascended the mountain slope to comb the area for remains. They found a lone tooth sitting on a log, and the top of a skull set back under a tree. Though the skull had some debris inside, the tooth was free of debris and in the open, unaffected by the elements over three mountain winters.
DNA testing was problematic. Specialists initially gave the skull an 86% match, a percentage that is typically inconclusive. The tooth was destroyed during testing, but the results were nonetheless given to Allyn without any further explanation. Allyn subsequently sought out the guidance of an out-of-state testing lab, who pointed out factual errors in the report and that the electropherograms (DNA results readout) suggested two sets of DNA present in the tooth. The tooth had been pulverized as part of the testing process and disposed of.
A second attempt at the skull met with frustration as Hurricane Katrina devastated the gulf coast, overwhelming the Texas firm with victim remains. Allyn called once a month to check on the status, and was eventually told to stop calling and accept that he’ll never have the answer he’s looking for. This angered Allyn and he made his feelings clear to the firm. The following day, he received a call from the firm who exclaimed that the skull belonged to Jaryd. He questioned this intensely, and the representative on the phone had no explanation for how they arrived at that conclusion so quickly. It wasn’t until years later that Allyn finally got a 100% match after a third and final attempt at identifying the skull. No results paperwork was provided.
The case was officially closed in 2003. Around 2009, Allyn received a phone call from a news reporter. She claimed that someone left a message on her voice mail that said there would be an arrest in the Jaryd Atadero case, once again leaving no clue as to the identity of the caller. Currently we have not determined whether either of these calls were legitimate.
Nothing further has been heard. If you or someone you know has any information regarding the disappearance of Jaryd Atadero, please contact your local authorities or email us at [email protected].