Army reservist becomes 13th person to be missing in Yosemite National Park

Joel Thomazin (Contributed Photo)

Katie Dowd

SFGate, San Francisco

Nov. 18—With more than 750 miles of trails, Yosemite National Park is a vast, unspoiled wilderness, making it a hiker’s dream. But it can quickly become a search-and-rescue nightmare when someone goes missing.

Joel Thomazin, 31, of Denair in Stanislaus County went missing on Sept. 6 on a solo hike in the park. The United States Army reservist planned to hike from Hetch Hetchy to Lake Eleanor, returning Sept. 9. A park ranger saw him on the first day of his hike near a steep section of O’Shaughnesy Dam. That’s believed to be the last known sighting of Thomazin.

After months of extensive searching, Thomazin is presumed by his family to have died on that hike. On Dec. 4, his family is planning a memorial service in Turlock, and they’re currently raising funds on GoFundMe to help his wife and 2-year-old son.

“Though it’s unlikely he is alive, without proof of his whereabouts, Joel is considered a missing person,” a post on the GoFundMe explains. “In the state of California, it can take five years to get a death certificate for a missing person which means his wife, Amanda, can’t collect on the things normally available to help bridge the gap such as Joel’s life insurance, social security, etc.”

Sadly, Thomazin is not the only person who has disappeared without a trace in the massive park. The National Park Service keeps track of cold cases on its website, where it lists a number of still-unsolved Yosemite disappearances.

Here are cases the park service is still hoping to close someday:

Richard Judd, 72, went missing on a day hike from Lower Merced Pass Lake to Red Peak Pass on July 25, 2021. He is 5-foot-11 with brown eyes and gray hair and a beard. He reportedly used white trekking poles and a navy blue daypack and was wearing a dark blue shirt and gray hiking pants when he went missing.

Sandra Johnsen Hughes, 54, has been missing since July 4, 2020. She was camping by herself in the Sierra National Forest when she was involved in a solo vehicle crash. Witnesses who saw her at the crash scene said she refused help. Since the last known sightings of Johnsen-Hughes, her sleeping bag and campsite were found abandoned. Hughes is 5-foot-3 and 150 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

Peter Jackson, 74, went missing after texting his son on Sept. 17, 2016, that he was hiking to Yosemite. His campsite was found undisturbed at White Wolf Campground, but no sign of Jackson was found. In 2019, his backpack was discovered between Aspen Valley and Smith Peak. He is 5-foot-10 and 155 pounds, with a gray hair and beard and blue eyes.

George Penca, 30, disappeared on a hike with fellow church members on June 17, 2011. According to his hiking companions, he became separated from the group and was last seen at the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. He is 5-foot-10 and 240 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes, and was last seen wearing either a black T-shirt or tank top and gray sweatpants with a white stripe down the leg.

Michael Ficery, 51, was believed to be hiking in Tiltill Valley on June 21, 2005, when he went missing. He is 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds with shoulder-length gray hair and was last seen wearing a faded blue T-shirt, olive or khaki shorts and a faded red scarf. He also wears glasses.

Walther H. Reinhard, 66, likely went for a hike on the White Wolf Trailhead around Sept. 19, 2002; his car was found at the trailhead a few weeks later. He was 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds with graying hair. It is not known what he was wearing, although he often hiked with a large fanny pack.

Ruthanne Ruppert, 49, was supposed to be going on a backpacking trip on Aug. 14, 2000, but reportedly had to delay it because of an infection. She was last seen either at the Yosemite Medical Clinic or Curry Village that day, and witnesses believe she may have gone on a day hike from Yosemite Falls to Foresta. In 2008, her backpack was found near Fireplace Creek, which is along that route. She is 5-foot-5 and 140 pounds with brown hair and eyes; one of her eyes is a prosthetic.

Kieran Burke, 45, was visiting from Dublin, Ireland, on a hiking trip in April 2000. He was discovered missing on April 6, 2000, when park staff noticed he hadn’t checked out of his lodging. He was last seen the day before at Curry Village, possibly on his way to hike alone. His family said he was an experienced hiker. He is 6 feet tall and 180 pounds with black hair and blue eyes.

David Paul Morrison, 28, set off from Yosemite Valley to hike Half Dome in the early morning hours of May 25, 1998. He did not return. He is 5-foot-9 and 150 pounds with brown hair and eyes, and was last wearing a gray UCSC sweatshirt, black pants, Nike running shoes and a fanny pack.

Timothy John Barnes, 25, disappeared on a day hike to Polly Dome Lakes on July 5, 1988. Witnesses last saw him on the Murphy Creek Trailhead around 9 a.m. He is 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds with dark hair and a mustache, and was last seen wearing a white T-shirt with a red letter “F” on it, gray sweatpants, white tennis shoes and a yellow daypack.

Stacey Ann Arras, 14, departed on a four-day camping trip with her father on July 17, 1981. They rode mules with a group of 10 other campers to Sunrise High Sierra Camp. After arriving, Arras wanted to take a short hike to Sunrise Lakes. She departed with a 77-year-old man in their group. The man quickly wearied and took a break while Arras went onward. She was never seen again. She is 5-foot-5 and 120 pounds with blond hair. She left the camp wearing a white windbreaker, maroon-and-white striped shorts and gray hiking boots.

Dikran Knadjian, 20, was on summer break from Cambridge University in England, where he was a medical school student. He was last seen in Curry Village on July 24, 1972, asking an employee for directions to Half Dome. He is 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds with brown hair and eyes, and was last seen with his Pentax 35mm camera.

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