LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. — Time is no match for a memory that refuses to forget.
It's been two decades of searching, investigating and wondering — what happened to Jaryd Atadero? He was almost four years old when he disappeared 20 years ago this week while on a hike. His remains were found several years later.
"When I think of Jaryd and when I think of what happened, it’s etched itself into my memory so deeply that when I think of it it’s as if it happened yesterday," said Allyn Atadero, Jaryd's father. "He had a glow about him. Every time people would come around they’d say, 'where’s Jaryd? We want to see Jaryd because he was such a happy-go-lucky kid.'"
Some thought he might have been abducted. Others think a mountain lion could have attacked him. There's never been a definitive answer and there may never be one.
He would have been in his mid-20s now. But Jaryd Atadero will forever be the three-year-old boy with a smile and curiosity that is impossible to forget.
"October 2, 1999 we had a few friends come up to our resort and Jaryd was on a hike," Allyn Atadero said. "While he was on that hike, he vanished."
Rescue teams from around the state converged on the Big South Trail in Larimer County in search of Jaryd Atadero. His father led the way. During the search, a helicopter crashed and injured those on board; no one was killed.
Days turned to weeks, seasons came and went, and a new century began before there were any clues about what could have happened. Then on a June day in 2003, two hikers came across clothes in the woods. It crushed any hope Jaryd Atadero was still alive.
"I thought I would find him. I thought Jaryd would hear my voice and know that daddy was looking for him and come running out. That’s what I honestly believed," Allyn Atadero said. "When we found out that was Jaryd’s cranium and his tooth, we realized that my son had perished on the mountain."
Twenty years later, there are few answers. Still, Allyn Atadero finds peace in the unknown. He finds peace in remembering Jaryd Atadero.
"I am at peace and I know I am going to see Jaryd again one of these days," Allyn Atadero said. "I’m going to look at him at say, 'Jaryd, what happened?' He’s going to look at me and say, 'dad, does it really matter?'"
There was never an official cause of death given in Jaryd Atadero’s disappearance. Twenty years later, the Ataderos want to thank all the rescuers who worked to search for Jaryd Atadero and put their own lives on the line.
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