Missing Person Search

August 11, 12, and 16 2022
Lake Hemet and Surrounding Areas
Mission 2022-023

Written by: Vinay Rao and Richard Yocum

 Lake Hemet, located in Garner Valley CA, has a beautiful and popular campground and was the location of this multi-day search. A church group had been camping in the area the weekend of August 5th when one of their members decided, without telling anyone, to leave the campsite somewhere between 9:30pm on August 6th and 5:30am on August 7th. After waiting about a day, the pastor of the church and a friend of the missing individual became concerned and notified the Riverside Sheriff Office. RMRU was activated to begin the search the afternoon of August 11th. The circumstances of this search were complicated by the fact that the missing person was known to have had past negative interactions with law enforcement, which meant that volunteer search parties needed to be accompanied by armed deputies.

The command post (CP) for the search was set up at the Sheriff’s Lake Hemet Mountain Station and James Eckhardt began mapping out search areas for the Riverside Search Dogs (K-9) teams. A team of two dogs and handlers with a deputy searched the northwest shore of the lake. The lake shoreline was also searched by boat and much of the general area was searched by helicopter. As the evening progressed, CP made the decision to continue the search the next morning. A brief conference call between James, Vinay, & Richard established a plan for Friday’s search areas.

On August 12th Richard and Vinay met at the Mountain Station early morning and re-established the CP. Resources available this day were: three K-9 teams, a RSO drone team, two RSO detectives, two RSO deputies and four RSO Mounted Patrol deputies. The K-9 teams were assigned to search the entire perimeter of Lake Hemet accompanied by a combination of Mounted Patrol and deputies on foot. Two Mounted Patrol units searched a dense brushy area just to the south and northeast of the lake. The detectives drove to Mountain Center and Idyllwild to look for any stores, etc. for cameras that might have useful footage and to put up fliers of the missing subject. One deputy used a four-wheel drive to search the Hurkey Creek Campground, a yellow-post camping area northeast of Lake Hemet and several roads in the area. The drone team conducted an aerial search over the lake and several marshy areas. Unfortunately, no clues were found, and it was determined that the best option was to suspend, not terminate, the SAR efforts until additional information becomes available.

SAR efforts resumed the evening of August 15th with a deputy searching the powerline cut north of the lake, and then the morning of August 16th when four K-9 teams focused on the area northeast of the lake and ROVE searched the powerline cut. Richard provided remote mapping support for the August 16th operations. SAR efforts were again suspended.

RMRU Members Involved: James Eckhardt, Vinay Rao, and Richard Yocum

Other Agencies Involved: (Riverside Search Dogs, RSO Aviation Unit helicopter and drones, RSO Mounted Patrol, RSO ROVE)