On Saturday, when volunteers line up to search for Dylan Redwine, Denise Hess will be among them.
A long-time friend of Dylan’s mother Elaine Redwine, Hess has been a major player in the effort to find the 13-year-old who disappeared Nov. 19 while visiting his father for Thanksgiving.
The searchers Saturday will look along several miles of ditches on both sides of La Plata County Road 240. Investigators want to cover the area ahead of a snowstorm that may hit Saturday night or Sunday.
Volunteers who have joined the search come from all over Colorado and northern New Mexico and number in the hundreds. They run in age from teens to seniors.
Some of them, a dozen or so who live in the area, have worked on the search daily. They print and distribute flyers, meet with people, help keep things organized.
Much of the activity takes place at Hess’ video store, a hub for all things Dylan.
“This community of Vallecito and Bayfield are very small,” Hess said. “People do not want to sit idle and do nothing. The searches give them an outlet and they are able to feel like they are doing something.”
Hess has been the driving force behind the volunteer effort in this tiny mountain community since day one.
She admits to frustration at the dearth of information.
“There’s nothing that any of the volunteers has found or even search and rescue has found that has been helpful in pointing us in the right direction,” Hess said. “I am beyond frustrated, but I keep up the hope.”
That’s pretty much the story for everybody involved.
“I think that everybody is still hoping that he’s OK,” said Michaela Duggan, a Durango resident who made the half hour drive to Vallecito on Thanksgiving Day to take part in the search with her son, sister and her sister’s kids. “We are praying that whatever is keeping him away from home ceases to do that. I think everybody is optimistic overall, but there’s also a feeling that people want resolution.”
Duggan keeps fliers in her car. Wherever she goes, she hands them out or puts them up. She has a picture of Dylan pasted to her car window. When she travels to Florida for the holidays, she will take flyers with her.
“I am going to put some up on the way to Arizona because I am flying out of Phoenix and I may put some up in Florida,” she said. “There’s no telling what has happened to Dylan and where he is.”
The Bayfield/Vallecito area is tight-knit. People know each other, and Dylan was well known and liked, Hess said. He lived in the area until July, when he moved with his mother and brother to Monument.
He had a core group of friends that has been on every single search.
The volunteer effort has faced two major obstacles, Hess said. Terrain is one. The area is hilly and rugged, heavily treed and speckled with lakes. The other has been misinformation.
When investigators first suggested Dylan was a runaway, people who knew him were incredulous.
“That was the most preposterous thing we’ve ever heard. That was a huge obstacle for us right out of the gate,” Hess said.
Indeed, the volunteer efforts were started to fill what people felt were large gaps in the search being done by investigators, Hess said.
Hess is the liaison between volunteers and Dylan’s divorced parents, Elaine and Mark Redwine. She speaks to them daily. While Elaine Redwine has been out on some searches, it’s been difficult for her, Hess said.
“She’s a strong woman, but she has a hard time holding herself together in public forum,” she said. “It’s hard enough to keep herself together in private.”
The search is personal for Hess, too.
“Dylan is very important to me and I want him to come home,” she said. “I can’t imagine the pain his mother and father are going through.”