LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- When someone vanishes in Las Vegas and the case goes cold, there’s a group dedicated to finding answers.
Red Rock Search and Rescue is made up of highly-trained volunteers.
As of the first week of February, the group is working on 15 cold cases -- people reported missing, then never seen again.
FOX5 joined on the search for a Henderson man in a remote part of Apex, northeast of the Las Vegas Valley.
“Obviously I think he’s out here. It’s a big, big area,” Andrew Brackenridge, the father of the missing man, said.
Eighteen months after Joshua went missing, his family is still searching.
“July 1, 2017, he went down to a gas station near his house and disappeared,” Brackenridge said. “He was my youngest son. Thirty-four years of age. Nice dad, wonderful dad, two beautiful children, wonderful son.”
Brackenridge keeps coming back to this desert area off Highway 93 where investigators found Joshua’s car.
“We don’t know if he went for a hike and got lost out here, got turned around,” he said. “We don’t know if he had some issues. We don’t know.”
Brackenridge said he has walked these trails many times. But he knows he can’t do it alone.
“I can walk a grid in one little area and my son could be over there and I could miss him,” he said.
“You can just feel how sad they are that they’re missing their loved one,” RRSAR volunteer Jon Mark Fore said. “You just want to hug them, help them out all you can. The biggest thing you want to do is find answers for them.”
Red Rock Search and Rescue has about 200 volunteers. Hikers at heart, these grassroots sleuths take on the most puzzling cases.
“All the green lines are searches that are still open,” Fore showed us a map of missing people -- fifteen cold cases these volunteers are hoping to heat up.
“There’s so many cases that we have to pursue that you just kind of have to spread your energy between all of them,” Fore said.
When a cold case falls into their hands, everything starts with research.
“We have to treat each one different,” he said. “We have to find out how good of physical shape they’re in so we know how far out to search for them. We have to know, did they like climbing up to tall areas? What other medical conditions did they have? Are they right or left handed?”
Fore is part of the mission development team. They spend hours compiling data and collecting evidence to create a search plan.
“From there we’ll map everything out,” he said. “We’ll find a place for the command post, we’ll plan search areas.”
The search for Joshua starts at dawn.
“We were kind of hoping maybe today if he’s out here, maybe we get some resolve - maybe today,” Andrew said. “But you never know. It’s a big desert.”
At the edge of this big desert, the command post is easy to find. The mobile radio tower is set up right off the highway.
Known as ground-pounders, volunteers get their assignments then pack up their bags.
“[We] basically search in a line,” RRSAR volunteer Walt Croley said. “They go out a ways and then come back within their search area.”
They’ve been out here before. But they haven’t looked at this side of the mountain yet.
“Our motto is we never give up,” Croley said. “That’s why we’re out here again.”
The drive to the search site is a rocky one. There’s no marked path for miles.
“Unfortunately, we’re looking for remains,” Croley said. “We’re looking for skeletal components, any type of clothing.”
While volunteers scan the rocky terrain, Joshua’s family waits for answers.
“It’s a determination to find the individual to provide closure to the family,” Croley said. “We’d love to close this case today. If we do, great. If we don’t, we’ll keep looking.”
They hit dead ends on their trails and they did in this case. But the search is not a failure.
More than a year later, while the Brackenridge family isn’t any closer to closure, the family finds hope in these strangers, volunteers, friends and now even more.
“This is where we are almost 18 months down the road, Joshua is missing. The family is grieving. It’s changed our lives a lot,” Andrew said. “They're all angels. They come out here looking for somebody they don’t know to get them home to a family they don’t know. It takes a certain person to do that and they’re part of my family now.”
RRSAR revisits each cold case at least twice a year. Searches are planned around the weather and how many volunteers can help.
This is all on top of the active searches they do at any time, whenever police tell them someone is missing.
RRSAR is made up entirely of volunteers. They provide free training.
To becoming a volunteer, visit: redrocksar.org/join/