UNSOLVED: The Case of Jaryd Atadero
As a criminology student at university, it should be of no surprise that I’m heavily invested in all things terrifying, suspicious, illegal and mysterious.
I’ve always had an ability to read people – more than normal – and to think forward and understand the outcome of a certain situation, as well as the motives and influences that contribute to why people act they way they do.
My crime obsession began years ago, when I was a high school student living with my dad. Back then, I was able to satisfy that obsession with back to back episodes of Law & Order: SVU, CSI and NCIS.
But one day that stopped being enough.
I stopped craving the fictional entertainment I was so used to and instead wanted something more… real. Something more unsettling.
I wanted to learn about past crimes and criminals in order to better understand them. I wanted to study the cases and formulate my own thoughts and opinions on the evidence and the facts, and I wanted to try and venture into the minds of the disturbed to see the situation through their eyes.
This is when I started delving into the genre of true crime – novels, documentaries, news stories and podcasts, and I haven’t been able to stop since.
After years of listening, watching, reading and consuming true crime content, I thought it was probably time I created some of my own.
I’ve actually been wanting to do this for a while, but I’ve been too scared.
Scared of the things I would learn, scared of how that would effect me, and scared of how you, the reader, will receive it.
BUT – they always say that if something scares you, it’s a good sign that you should do it.
So here I am, introducing the newest series on my blog titled UNSOLVED.
Each post in this series will focus on a different unsolved case – whether that be a disappearance, homicide or serial killer case.
I wanted to write about unsolved cases more than anything else, because while some of them may have happened years ago, they still matter. Some of these cases [particularly the one covered in this post] have been declared ‘solved’ – but they’re really not. When the family of a missing or murdered person are still in the dark about what happened – that isn’t really solved – is it? I’m hoping this blog series will educate you all on these mysteries, while at the same time opening up the dialogue around them and keeping the victims memory alive.
Trust me when I say that the content in this series is not to be taken lightly, and it may not be for everyone.
It comes from real life cases, with real life horror, loss and tragedy.
As so, my aim is to be as respectful as possible to the victims and families involved in these cases, and I ask for you to please act the same in your discussions after the fact, whether that be in the comments below or in your life outside of the internet.
It’s also probably worth mentioning that most of these cases have a looooot of evidence, and so these posts will be much longer than my usual content.
Grab a cuppa and settle in.
UNSOLVED: The Case Of Jaryd Atadero
Jaryd Atadero was three years old when he vanished. He was part of a hiking group navigating the Big South Trail in the Colorado mountains, and at some point became separated from the group. He was never seen again.
This case has stuck with me ever since I first learned about it. I heard Jaryd’s father, Allyn, talking to The Generation Why Podcast about this case almost two years ago now, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.
Allyn and his family owned a retreat near the mountains, and it was just before the winter when a religious singles group that frequented the retreat wanted to go to a huge fish farm just up the road. Jaryd’s sister Josallyn was invited along by one of the adults in the group, and because his older sister was going, of course Jaryd wanted to tag along.
He went to his dad and asked if he could go along. Allyn said no at first, because Jaryd was so young and also because Jaryd had never been out of Allyn’s sight before.
But after some persuasion from the group, and assurances that they would only be just down the road and would of course take care of Jaryd, Allyn agreed.
Let me just say here that this group of people were not strangers to the Ataderos. They were considered to be family friends and a few of the group had even babysat the Atadero children here and there when Allyn needed some extra help. So Allyn was comfortable allowing his children to go with this group, as they all knew each other very well and had shown genuine compassion and care for his children in the past.
The group [and children] went to the fish farm for a while, but decided they wanted to continue exploring. About 25 kilometres up the road is the famous Big South Trail, so they jumped in their cars and drove up there to continue their hike.
This all happened in 1999, which was before mobile phones were glued to peoples hands, and the area of the mountains this all occurred has little to no phone reception, so Allyn was not informed that the group would be going up into the mountains. Had the group asked Allyn for permission to take his children up there, he would have said no.
The Big South Trail in the Colorado mountains. [Source]
On the trail, the group gradually broke off into two sections – one being the slower group, and the other being the faster group. Both children were originally in the slow group, but eventually Jaryd broke off and walked faster to meet up with the other group.
There must have been a fair amount of distance between these groups, because along the way Jaryd crossed paths with two fisherman. These men have been interviewed by police and say that Jaryd asked them if there were bears in the woods. They told him yes, and then sent him on his way.
This part is so infuriating to me…
Jaryd was three years old. As in a toddler.
The fishermen didn’t check to see if he was okay, or wait with him until his parents or guardians were there. They just left him to toddle off on his own accord. Now, the fishermen say they heard the slow group approaching so knew Jaryd would be fine, but evidently they were wrong. Jaryd was never seen again.
The group report hearing a scream around this time, but were unsure whether it was a playful scream or the complete opposite. After a while, however, both groups met and realised that Jaryd was nowhere to be seen. Each group thought he was with the other, so it makes sense so as to why it only occurred to them at this time. After some searching, they realised they wouldn’t be able to find him, and so two of the group headed back to the Atadero’s retreat. I think they were hoping that Allyn would be able to find his son within minutes, and that perhaps Jaryd was just hiding behind a rock or a tree waiting to jump out.
They went and found Allyn and told him that they had something to tell him. He immediately asked if Josallyn was okay, to which they said ‘yes’. He then asked if Jaryd was okay, and if he fell or hurt himself, to which they said ‘Jaryd is okay, we just can’t find him’.
Allyn immediately made his way to the trail, driving like an absolute maniac, completely freaking out the entire time. Once he got to the trail, however, his thought was that he would find Jaryd in a matter of minutes. Surely it would only take Allyn calling out Jaryd’s name a few times and the boy would come back to the trail.
Allyn did a bit of searching, calling out Jaryd’s name for a while, before he realised that this was no small task. It was not long after that Search and Rescue arrived to assist in the search for Jaryd.
In the hours, days, months and years that passed, no sign of Jaryd ever showed up.
Search dogs identified an area that Jaryd had been in, but no sign of the boy was found.
Allyn has spoken in detail about the issues that he experienced with the local Sheriff’s department in the search for Jaryd. He believes that the local enforcement officers were excited by the prospect of being the ones to find the missing boy, and so they turned away all external help which included trained search dogs, trackers, search horses and mountaineering experts that travelled for miles to help out. After countless days of searching, a helicopter was brought in to scour the forest from the sky, but it unfortunately crashed during the process.
Allyn then found out that the clothing used by the Sheriff’s department to track Jaryd was actually his own, and not the young boys.
There were so many aspects of this case that were carried out poorly by the authorities. Allyn thoroughly believes that if the Sheriff’s department weren’t so egotistical, his son would have been found.
In 2003, a couple of hikers stumbled upon some children’s shoes, pants and a jacket. This clothing was soon confirmed to be the same clothing Jaryd was wearing on the day he disappeared.
The clothing was found at the top of a 550ft vertical climb on the mountain, about 150ft away from the trail, almost exactly where the search dogs had identified Jaryd’s scent years earlier. A cranium and a small tooth were also discovered, which were later identified as being consistent with the size of a 3 year old boy.
Now, let’s talk about the clothing.
Allyn had the Sheriff send him pictures of the clothing to confirm if they belonged to Jaryd, and after confirming it, Allyn sent this picture onto his family letting them know Jaryd’s clothing was found. Allyn’s dad immediately asked why Jaryd’s pants were inside out. And they were. Which is beyond strange. The pants were also found with one of the legs missing and in tatters, which was later identified to be a result of birds using the material for their nests. The shoes were in near pristine condition – basically, they didn’t look as though they had been sitting in the elements for four years.
Strange – right?
Okay so let’s talk theories, because they are quite a few.
The first – which is the official explanation for the case – is that Jaryd was attacked by a mountain lion on the trail and dragged up onto that cliff.
The only issue with this theory is that no actual evidence of a mountain lion attack has ever been found.
Such evidence would be scrapes on Jaryd’s shoes from being dragged up 550ft of cliff face [if they made it up there at all – Jaryd’s shoes were always untied with the laces tucked in], Jaryd’s jacket would have been severely damaged [mountain lions generally grab their victims by the neck and/or chest and shake them violently], and there would be blood all over the clothes.
So that theory doesn’t really make sense – right? Well, the next theory is that someone took Jaryd from the trail. I believe this is the theory that Allyn supports most, as it’s odd that the shoes and jacket were found in such pristine condition and found in an area that search dogs had torn through years prior, not to mention the fact that the pants were found inside out. It would also explain the lack of blood on the clothing.
I believe it is possible that someone took Jaryd from the trail, but why return the clothing? And also – why was there not more of Jaryd to find? His t-shirt was never found, nor were his underwear or socks, not to mention the rest of his bones and teeth. Strange.
The final theory is one that I would have never, ever considered, but somehow it’s beyond plausible. It’s that Jaryd was taken by a large bird of prey instead of by a mountain lion.
Sounds insane, right? Well, just wait.
I found this theory on Reddit and I’m just going to copy and paste it into this post now. I have edited it a little for spelling and grammatical errors, but the point is still the same:
“The pants being found inside out [and off the child] was some of the main evidence against an attack by a large cat. Imagine this: an eagle has the kid by the waistband of his pants and by the shirt. The kid knocks one of the talons away so now it’s just the one talon grabbing his waistband that’s holding him. His torso and head fall toward the ground and he is now hanging upside down by the waistband of his pants. At this point he starts to fall out of his pants, which the eagle would still have. This would pull his pants off his body, turning them inside out, until it reached his shoes, which we know the father left untied, which would likely pull off his shoes. The child falls, landing somewhere out of sight – possibly in a tree or on top of a rock – the impact of which would either render Jaryd unconscious or kill him. The dogs are unable to locate a trail because he wasn’t moved over the ground, but rather carried in the air. When the search team has the dogs alert on the hill his clothes and skull were later found, they search it but are unable to find him. Later, weather/time cause the child to fall from the tree or higher rocks and become exposed. The tooth indicates an impact occurred with a lot of force – which is consistent with falling. The torn clothing also appears consistent with an attack by a bird of prey. The child was stated as being found within 150ft of the trail, so the bird wouldn’t have had to carry the child far.” [Source]
This theory is so interesting to me, because it seems to be the most plausible. It basically states that Jaryd was on the trail and a large bird of prey [which for this area would have been a golden eagle – they can grow to have a wing span of over 2.3 metres] swooped down and picked him up, and went to carry him away to its nest.
Now, it’s not unreasonable to think that a golden eagle could carry a 3 year old over 150ft in distance – just watch this video.
After Jaryd had fallen out of his pants as the theory states above, the eagle dropped them as he knew he’d lost his catch, and that’s how the shoes and pants were found. The jacket being in such pristine condition may be able to be explained if it stayed on Jaryd’s body while he decomposed in the tree or high up on the rocks, and the fact that there were hardly any remains left could be explained if animals got to his body after he fell from the tree and took the bones with them.
The only thing this theory does not explain is Jaryd’s shirt, but maybe that got taken by an animal or maybe it blew away in the wind. The lack of blood on the clothing is also questionable, but if Jaryd had passed long before any animals got to him that makes sense as the body won’t bleed out after that amount of time. And let’s not forget the shoes. If you type ‘Jaryd Atadero shoes’ into Google, you’ll see pictures of them there. They look to be in pretty good condition to me, and I just don’t know if that’s possible. Who knows? They might be made of really strong plastic or other material that doesn’t disintegrate when exposed to weather?
Either way, this case is so strange and confusing and most definitely unsolved in my eyes. Jaryd’s family have had a hard time coming to terms with the loss of such a sweet boy, and I can’t even imagine the pain they must feel and the unrest they must experience by not having any actual answers. My thoughts go out to them, and to the memory of sweet little Jaryd, who would now be in his early twenties. May he forever rest in peace.
If you want to learn more about the case, you can go over to Facebook and follow Allyn Atadero’s page here, and buy his book – Missing: When The Son Sets – here. Allyn is now an advocate for child safety and helps other families who are going through the same thing deal with their grief and loss.
Let me know in the comments below what you think happened to Jaryd, and be sure to let me know your thoughts on this series! I welcome any and all feedback – and I’d love to know which unsolved case you want me to cover next.