Numerous backpackers, trekkers, and nature enthusiasts often venture to Colorado’s sprawling Big South Trail. Stretching over 11 miles and spanning 7,000 acres, this trail winds through breathtaking landscapes, including serene lakes, towering trees, and majestic mountains. Located within the Roosevelt National Forest, the Big South Trail offers a variety of paths with moderate difficulty levels, featuring steep inclines and rugged terrain. These trails provide a rewarding challenge, making them suitable for hikers with a range of skill levels.

In the heart of this national forest, one can encounter a diverse array of wildlife, including black bears, elk, moose, mountain goats, bobcats, and mountain lions.

Back in 1999, a quaint town called Belleview, Colorado, was home to Jaryd Atadero, a three-year-old boy, his father Allyn, and his sister Josellin, aged six at the time. Allyn, along with his brother, owned a picturesque mountain-side resort that served as the residence for this devoted single father and his two children.

In search of companionship, Allyn joined a Christian Singles Network group that same year. In exchange for several nights’ stay at the lodge, eleven group members volunteered to help Allyn prepare the lodge for the upcoming winter by October. Allyn accepted their offer, placing his trust in the integrity of the group members, a decision that would later haunt him.

The group collectively decided to embark on a trip to a hatchery located two miles away from the resort on October 21st. Eager to join the adventure, Jaryd and Jocellyn pleaded with their father for permission. Reluctantly, Allyn agreed, trusting the group’s members, but this decision would later become a source of regret.

During the hike, the group of eleven individuals scattered, with some lagging behind the swifter members. Guided by Jaryd, Jocellyn, and another adult, the children reveled in their hike and play. Jaryd ventured ahead, covering approximately one and a half miles into the hike. It was during this part of the trail that he encountered two fishermen, with whom he discussed the potential presence of bears.

After this encounter, Jaryd continued on his journey along the trail.

An hour later, a piercing scream shattered the calm of the forest. Jocellyn believed it was a distressing cry. The adults in the group quickly realized that Jaryd was missing.

After an hour of searching for Jaryd, several group members returned to the lodge to inform Allyn of his son’s disappearance.

Fueled by a mix of anger and concern, Allyn embarked on a quest to find his son. Despite his determined efforts, frustration met him at every turn. Eventually, Allyn dialed 911, prompting the assembly of over 60 individuals by 6:30 in the evening, all united in their collective mission to find the missing child.

Above the lofty peaks, a helicopter engaged in the search for Jaryd encountered a crash. Remarkably, though the passengers survived, two out of five sustained grave injuries. Days turned into weeks of searching for the missing child, with no sign of his whereabouts.

Based on the discovery of mountain lion tracks and the memory of the cries heard that day, it was concluded that Jaryd had likely fallen victim to a mountain lion attack. It’s essential to note that such attacks by mountain lions are exceptionally rare, with only 14 recorded fatal incidents in the United States and Canada combined since 1915.

On October 28th, the search was reluctantly suspended.

Amidst a plethora of theories and speculations, a common consensus emerged: Jaryd’s chances of survival at that point were slim. Some speculated he might have encountered wildlife, fallen into a lake, or even succumbed to unknown forces. Some even considered the possibility of abduction, perhaps involving the two fishermen who had observed Jaryd racing ahead of the group along the trail that fateful day.

Years passed without any trace of Jaryd, and it was assumed that the wilderness had claimed the boy, leaving his fate forever shrouded in mystery.

Then, on May 6th, 2003, two adventurous hikers exploring the forest stumbled upon a child’s shoe and a brown fleece jacket approximately 500 meters off the trail. The shoe was remarkably well-preserved, while the jacket bore evidence of punctures. Their exploration led to the discovery of a second shoe and a pair of tattered, inside-out blue jeans unmistakably belonging to a child. One leg of the jeans had suffered significant damage.

These items were handed over to the authorities, who confirmed their connection to Jaryd through Allyn. Subsequent searches led to the discovery of a child’s skull and molar tooth.

Though more than a decade had passed, DNA testing eventually confirmed these remains as those of young Jaryd.

While forensic examinations failed to find mountain lion-related evidence such as hairs, blood, or DNA, the prevailing assumption was that Jaryd had fallen victim to a mountain lion attack. Experts in the field speculated that the boy’s abdomen region would have been targeted, an area that remained undisturbed on Jaryd’s remains, with his clothing potentially repurposed by the lions for their nests.

Even over two decades later, the circumstances surrounding Jaryd’s tragic fate continue to defy explanation, leaving his destiny forever shrouded in an enduring mystery.

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