It has been over four years since hunter Shawn Higgins vanished into the Oregon wilderness, yet his family still grieves like it was yesterday.
“I wake up every morning thinking about him, wondering where he is,” Stephanie Higgins, Shawn’s wife, said. “I know he didn’t just get lost. Something happened to him.”
According to the high school sweethearts, the couple would often travel from their home in Coos Bay to the Siskiyou Mountains in Southwest Oregon with their two sons.
“We knew that area well,” Stephanie said about where Shawn went missing. “When we were teenagers, we’d skip school and go turkey hunting. Since then, it’s always been a place for our family.”
Typical Hunting Day
On October 14, 2016, the family unknowingly said their last goodbyes to Shawn. He was hunting at the Shasta Costa drainage in the Bear Camp area about 45 miles east of Gold Beach, Oregon, with his brother and son, Trevor, who was 21-years-old at the time.
The group all went their separate ways but made plans to meet up at the truck later that day.
Trevor waited at the truck, but his father never showed. The man began to get worried as a storm blew in as the sun started to set.
“Shawn was on a footpath that ran alongside a road,” Stephanie recalled. “He’s an outdoorsman who knew the area, and he knew Trevor was waiting for him. It doesn’t make any sense that he didn’t make it out that evening.”
Due to the trip’s short length and the familiarity with the area, Shawn left his backpack and GPS in the truck.
“If only he had taken it, we’d know where he is. But he knew he’d be right back. In his mind, there was no reason to take it.”
Once Shawn’s brother made it to the truck, the two decided to split up and look for the missing hunter. Trevor ended up getting lost and built a shelter to wait for officials to find him in the morning. Shawn’s brother called the Curry County Sheriff’s Office when the young man also never returned.
Stephanie was informed of the disappearance of her son and husband early the next day.
“I was in shock,” Stephanie said. “Shawn would have never spent the night up there, not without the proper gear. He would’ve made it out. The only thing I could hope for at the moment was that they had found each other.”
Several search and rescue teams from around the state aided the sheriff’s office with the rescue as the area remained wet and cold.
After four days, Trevor was found two-and-a-half miles from the spot where he went to look for his father. He was airlifted to Bay Area Hospital after suffering severe hypothermia from the harsh conditions. Trevor never found any sign of his father in the woods.
“He wanted to know if his dad had made it back to the truck,” Stephanie said. “But I think he knew from the beginning when his dad didn’t come out on the first day, something was wrong.”
Stephanie finds the whole situation very odd, however.
“I just find it strange that nothing of Shawn’s was found,” Stephanie said. “He had layers of clothing, a gun, bullets, yet, nothing was found?”
After nine days of searching with drones, helicopters, K-9 units, and many volunteers, the search started to fade off. It was Shawn’s 42nd birthday.
Family and friends continued to look for a few more days, but the sheriff’s department suspended the search on October 25, 2016. No traces of the man were ever recovered.
“It is with a heavy heart that we have to suspend the search for Shawn at this time,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the family, friends, and community that love Shawn so dearly. We pray that they will find a way to make sense of this tragedy and heal their hearts. The connection that the people of Coos County have with each other and the way they come together to help each other is nothing but astonishing and an example for other communities to live by. I am very humbled.”
Small searches have continued for the last four years, but hope dwindles. Stephanie is now in nursing school, and Trevor followed in his father’s footsteps to work at the Operator’s Union.
“It’s hard because we have no clues, no idea of where he might be. Some of his friends don’t even believe he’s there, in the woods. They tell me, ‘he hasn’t been found because he’s not in the woods,'” Stephanie said. “My hope now is that maybe someone saw him that day or knows where he is. Something to put our minds at peace.”
Anyone with information regarding Shawn’s disappearance is asked to call the Curry County Sheriff’s Office (541) 247-3276.
[H/T NBC News]