Search for Missing Natrona County Boy is Now a Recovery Effort
The Natrona County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday afternoon that the search for missing 16-year-old Joey Peterson is now a search for his body, spokesman Taylor Courtney said.
“The search for Joey at this time is now consistent with a recovery,” Courtney said during a press conference on Wednesday.
"This does not mean that we will not continue searching for him; we are analyzing data that will indicate areas of probability," he said.
Joey wore pajama pants and a hooded sweatshirt, but no shoes, when he walked away from his house near the area of Hat Six Road and Goose Creek Road between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10.
Since then multiple law enforcement, trained searchers, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, drones, search dogs, horseback teams, volunteers, landowners, private companies, and others have searched 250 square miles, Courtney said. The best equipment has been used including advanced imaging technology, he added.
Search teams have had to deal with rocks and mud slides, downed trees, deep snowdrifts, steep and rugged terrain, deep draws, rock outcroppings, dense vegetation, the elevation ranging from 5,200 feet to 7,200 feet, and the emotional investment, he said.
Law enforcement has been in constant contact with the family, too, Courtney said. The family has requested privacy and he will honor that, he added.
On Saturday and Monday, searchers found footprints in the snow at the base of Casper Mountain about three miles in a straight line from his house, but the tracks were days old. Joey was alone, because there were no other footprints or vehicle tracks in the area, Courtney said. Searchers also found blood at a track, indicating Joey's foot was injured.
However, rising temperatures melted the snow and possible tracks, he said.
However, the circumstances of finding Joey have diminished because of the steep terrain, the time from when he was reported missing, two snowfalls and one rainfall, minimal clothing and no food source, he said. “A person would not be able to survive that situation.”
The recovery effort will become more difficult in the next few days because of a storm Wednesday and Thursday with low temperatures, heavy snowfall and a resulting lack of visibility, Courtney added. "The cold temperatures hamper K9 teams and their ability to detect human scent."
Law enforcement is asking the public to not volunteer during the storm because of safety issues, he said.
He appreciates that many well-intentioned people want to find Joey, but bad things can happen when untrained people go out in bad weather resulting in searchers having to go out to find a missing volunteer.
Likewise, the newest search area is on private property, and the Natrona County Sheriff's Office cannot and will not authorize volunteers to trespass, Courtney said.
This has been the largest-scale search he's seen in terms of resources, he said. "Every single person who has worked on this search has an emotional connection to finding Joey."
Courtney urged the community to keep the Peterson family and friends in their thoughts and prayers and not forget him.
"This hasn't been an easy time," he said. "We are still hopeful that we are going to find Joey and bring him home."
Anyone who sees Joey or has information regarding his whereabouts should immediately call the Natrona County Sheriff's Office at 235-9300.