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Missing but not forgotten

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By AJ Vicens

DENVER — A family’s frantic emotions in the face of a missing child were remembered at the state Capitol on Feb. 29, as Allyn Atadero of South Jefferson County continued his push for improvements in search and rescue efforts.

The observance on the west steps of the Capitol was attended by a couple of dozen law enforcement officials, Atadero family friends and state legislators. Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, presented Allyn Atadero with a memorial tribute to his son, Jaryd, who went missing Oct. 2, 1999, while hiking with his family and church group in the Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins. Jaryd remains missing to this day, but some of his clothes were found in the canyon a few years after that fateful day.

One of the main frustrations on the day that Jaryd went missing was the lack of a coordinated search effort, and the fact that many qualified people trained in search and rescue and willing to bring search dogs to hunt for Jaryd were turned away by local law enforcement, according to Atadero's book, "Missing: The Jaryd Atadero Story."

That frustration inspired not only the book, it also led Atadero to push for legislation at the state level to help families avoid the problems he had to deal with in the precious minutes and hours after his son went missing. To that end, Gagliardi and state Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, have teamed up in an attempt to create a state-coordinated search and rescue team, and possibly a state search and rescue coordinator.

The two legislators have presented their ideas to the state Department of Local Affairs, and that agency is in the process of evaluating the plans to determine if the need for a state-coordinated search and rescue team exists.

"I truly believe there is" a need, Gagliardi said shortly after presenting Atadero and his wife, Deb, and daughter Josallyn a plaque honoring Jaryd and the family's efforts to help other families who find themselves in a similar situation. "I definitely think it would be great."

The state agency is set to release a report May 23 with its findings on the matter.

Gagliardi envisions the state being able to rapidly respond to situations like Jaryd's with a database of trackers and search and rescue professionals with search dogs that could be rapidly deployed to different areas. She said it would be an "incredible" tool for all branches of law enforcement.

"We do a lot of things down here that are very controversial," Shaffer said in a short speech. "This one isn't."

In that vein, Gagliardi said she doesn't envision any opposition to potential legislation, and that the only difficulties will be getting all the different parties involved to come to the table and hammer out an arrangement.

Atadero told the assembled legislators, law enforcement officials, friends, family and media on Feb. 29 the story of the days after his son went missing. A person who was trained in tracking offered to help, and Atadero was excited and handed the phone to the local police, who were coordinating the effort.

"‘If we need you, we'll call you. Thanks,’ " Atadero quoted the officer as saying before abruptly hanging up the phone. Atadero thought the response was odd, as the officer did not get the tracker's phone number. That scenario played out time and again in the days and weeks after Jaryd's disappearance, Atadero said.

"People called and offered help and were turned away," he said. In his book, he blamed a mixture of inexperienced law enforcement and egos that wouldn't let anyone else help. Legislation like Gagliardi's will help make the process more efficient and effective, Atadero said.

"We want everyone who's qualified up there," Atadero said. "There are so many people that we can call upon, yet when you're in that situation, you don't know who to turn to. I hope it's common sense."

Atadero's wife, who was visibly emotional throughout Friday's ceremony, praised her husband's strength in dealing with the loss of his son — and in wanting to help other families.

"He still has so much heart," Deb Atadero said. "He still wants to make sure that other people don't have to go through this."

Atadero's daughter was also singled out for recognition Feb. 29, when she and Haley Watkins, a classmate at Falcon Bluffs Middle School, led the state House of Representatives in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.