Mystery of Missing Hiker in Trinity Alps Solved by Family and Friends

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Steve Morris, August 2, 2014, about thirty minutes before he went missing.

When Steven Morris didn’t come back to camp on August 2, 2014,Trinity County Search and Rescue began looking for him. They didn’t find him and, after about a week, the search was discontinued. (See earlier story here.)

For over a year his wife raised money to continue searches in the area. Yesterday she issued a press release saying that her husband’s remains had been found and a death certificate for Steven Morris had been issued.

She sent out the following press release:

An army of community and family volunteers searched for and eventually found the trail and some remains of missing hiker, Dr. Steve Morris, in a remote, vast wilderness area in Northern California.

On August 2, 2014 Steve vanished on a day hike with a friend in the Trinity Alps, northwest of Redding. Official Search and Rescue teams arrived early the following morning. The next several days included ground and air searches by CHP helicopters, Marin’s elite Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit, Human Remains Detection Dog teams, Black Hawk helicopters ferrying searchers up to the high peak, and over 100 Certified Search and Rescue volunteers. They came from as far away as Southern California and worked tirelessly for four and a half days amid extremely challenging conditions before the Trinity Sheriff’s Department suspended operations. If not for the determination of the family and private individuals donating time, energy and expertise, this mystery would remain unsolved.

On August 10, 2014 Jim Higgins, a private citizen and helicopter pilot from Chico, California contacted the Morris family to offer help. When asked what he would charge he said, “I don’t want any money. Just pay it forward someday.” That was the beginning of an extended private search endeavor involving:

  • Ground searching and search support by over 60 family and community volunteers (most from First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa)
  • Analysis of over 5,000 photos of the search zone by 135 volunteers with ASIST (Aerial and Satellite Image Search Team)
  • Three Certified Trackers through Joel Hardin Professional Tracking Services
  • Seven Certified Human Remains Detection Dog Teams
  • Over $42,000 raised by 341 supporters to fund the search via GoFundMe

By low-flying helicopter, Mr. Higgins was able to locate a slide area descending from the 7,500 foot peak where Steve was last seen. Footprints were present at the base of the slide.   From that point, the team conducted 21 expeditions over 10 months, only taking a break during inclement winter storms. They painstakingly tracked Steve’s route more than two miles down the mountainside. The team eventually found evidence which ultimately tested positive by cadaver dog “Buster” Dostie, microscopic analysis by Bode Technologies and state of the art forensic analysis by Dr. Arpad Vass (formerly of University of Tennessee). The Sonoma County Superior Court has examined the evidence and issued a death certificate. A memorial service was held for Steve at First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa on August 23, 2014.

“There are no words to express how much my family and I appreciate the love and sacrifice of so many people over such an extended period of time,” Carrie Morris, Steve’s widow, has said. “Many started as strangers to us, but now have become lifelong friends. They have been as compassionate to us as ‘God with skin on’ throughout this challenging process. Because of them, we not only have closure, but I can say we have found as much healing as pain in our story.”

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September 2014 Trackers, ground searchers and support (Left to Right: Steve Frary, Carmen Kinch, Jo Peterson, Carrie Morris, Jim Higgins and Jeff Braunstein)

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19 comments

  • LeAnna Carson-Hansen

    What a wonderful support network working together to find Dr. Morris. I am so very sorry for the loss of your husband, family member, and friend.
    May you be comforted in your loss and be surrounded by many who will continue to give you the support you need.

  • Thomas R. Van Bergen

    What is the latest with the Father/son Ortiz killers of Daniel Colegrove?

  • So sad and so uplifting at the same time.
    May the love of the your new “family” help heal your loss.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Loving hands and people,God bless you all.

  • Thank you for your wonderful story!
    We are all connected! It’s what I love best about Humans.
    Thanks to Steve and Carrie.
    Thanks to all those who brought so much to one another, by creating another chapter in Steve’s life story.
    Oh yeah, and thank you dogs

  • Awesome job, JHPTS trackers and all other searchers! (Hi Jo!) This is a good example of why we need more trained trackers as searchers. Glad the family got some closure.

  • “The team determined Morris had fallen off a ridge, and was so badly injured in his fall that he could only limp or crawl until he collapsed more than 2 miles down the mountainside. There, he succumbed to hypothermia or wild animals.”

    How sad to be out enjoying what makes you happy and tragically you go missing…my prayers go out to the family and friends…May he rest in peace <3

    • Lost Croat Outburst

      Where did that quote come from? That’s exactly the information that I meticulously searched for in this press release. How could the best estimation of what happened be left out? Reporting was not intrepid. Basic journalism?

      Otherwise a tragic, yet moving human chronicle of human beings responding valiantly to despair. Condolences to the family and thank you to the searchers.

      • That came from a SF Chron story. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Wife-finally-learns-the-fate-of-her-missing-6969151.php

        The piece I posted was a press release from the widow of the missing hiker.

        • Lost Croat Outburst

          OK, accepted. What is HaidaAngel quoting from? Why was this quote only available to HaidaAngel? Something about this whole affair is NOT right. If the victim was able to hobble two miles after falling off the cliff but was unable to signal to the huge rescue effort; why not? First story says he was with a group, second story says a day hike with ONE other person. Unlike many such incidents, they knew exactly where they were camping and hiking and had an accurate time frame for disappearance, and the victim was on foot, no machines in the Wilderness. None of this adds up. Something is phony. All those experts came up empty? The doctor was on a day(?) hike in massive wilderness and had no matches for a signal or safety fire, no flashlight for signaling at dusk and no rescue whistle? Not acceptable.

          OK, you’re saying the Chron story talked about being alive for a while, etc. sure would have been nice to know that when your lede says the mystery is “solved”.

          • Haida was quoting from the article I linked.

            Not all questions were answered but some of the man’s remains were located and accepted by the court. To quote the press release, ” They painstakingly tracked Steve’s route more than two miles down the mountainside. The team eventually found evidence which ultimately tested positive by cadaver dog “Buster” Dostie, microscopic analysis by Bode Technologies and state of the art forensic analysis by Dr. Arpad Vass (formerly of University of Tennessee). The Sonoma County Superior Court has examined the evidence and issued a death certificate.”

  • I guess nobody will ever know the exact details of what went wrong, but what an amazing story of love and community.

  • My thoughts and prayers for his family & friends.

  • Seems like a miracle he was found . So much better for his family to bring him home.
    I was afraid this would be another ” missing 411 ” story. All you searchers are full of heart ,faith,and compassion.

  • Thank you for this article. Glad there’s some closure for the family.

  • Marilynn Johnson

    So the remains were confirmed through DNA to be Steve’s? The article doesn’t clarify this.

    • Yes, this is a press release from his wife.

    • The press release doesn’t say that DNA was used but it does say, “The team eventually found evidence which ultimately tested positive by cadaver dog “Buster” Dostie, microscopic analysis by Bode Technologies and state of the art forensic analysis by Dr. Arpad Vass (formerly of University of Tennessee). The Sonoma County Superior Court has examined the evidence and issued a death certificate.” In other words, the proof was accepted by a legal court.

  • my quote came from a SF Chron story. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Wife-finally-learns-the-fate-of-her-missing-6969151.php
    I did not mean to cause issues with a reader…it was simply another take on the story as it unfolds, from another source. I omitted the link where I googled it but, not intentionally… Sorry for the mix up ….Kym I appreciate your work here, didn’t mean to cause a problem 🙂

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