SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – Chris Ihinger, 12, and Danny Eberly, 14, who disappeared from the campground parking lot near the Dolores River boat ramp at the west end of Big Gypsum Valley on Sunday, Oct. 2, now face charges for Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft, a fourth-class felony.
The duo took off in a white Ford pickup belonging to Aaron Ihinger, Chris Ihringer’s father, while he and a partner climbed Psycho Tower, a three-pitch, three-hour climb.
Near the top of the climb, Ihinger said Monday,
“I couldn’t see the boys or see the truck.
After summiting, the two climbers rappelled down, consolidated their gear and began the 12-1/2 mile hike out of the backcountry to Colorado State Highway 141.
“In my mind all along, there were three possibilities –there was an abduction, there was a runaway and there was just a joyride gone bad,” said Ihinger, of what he thought happened to the duo.
Of the two runaways’ Oct. 5 arrest at a J.C. Penney store in Phoenix (video of the two shoplifting hats was released to local television stations), Ihinger said, “That really was the best-case scenario of all. All we wanted was for the police to call us and say they had them, safe and sound.
“Although,” he added, the runaway scenario “was probably the farthest from my comprehension, I never would have seen this coming. Chris and I have always had a very tight relationship, very open, very honest. Honestly, I didn’t see this coming at all.”
It’s almost “hard,” he said, “to accept the best-case scenario.”
Ihinger, a single parent, flew to Phoenix Thursday with Laurie Eberly, Danny’s mother, to bring the boys home.
“We brought them straight to the [San Miguel County] sheriff’s department,” Ihinger said; there, the boys were taken into custody, and their statements taken. They were then moved to the Grand Mesa Youth Services Center, in Grand Junction, to await a preliminary hearing that will determine where they are sent next.
Three-Day Search for Missing Boys
“We thought maybe the kids got tossed in the river,” said Eric Wright, Ihinger’s partner on the Psycho Tower climb, sounding philosophical about feeling abandoned high atop “a 300 foot tower, an hour-and-a-half before dark, with an approaching thunderstorm,” when he saw the truck was missing.
There is no relationship between Eberly and Wright, who was misidentified in early incident reports as Eberly’s stepfather.
The two climbers were picked up two-and-a-half miles into the hike by Nucla resident J.J. Sutton, who was bear-hunting.
“He was very helpful,” Ihinger said of Sutton, who drove them down “to more or less the dead end of the valley” looking for the two boys.
Seeing no evidence of a wreck, Sutton drove Ihinger and Wright to Norwood, where they were picked up by Eberly’s mother.
The San Miguel Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team, with help from the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, search dogs and Olathe Spray Service contract helicopter, combed the region for the next three days, while rain and snow blanketed the county.
A break in the investigation was reported Tuesday, after SMSO investigators heard, in the course of interviews with the two boys’ friends in Telluride, that it was “highly probable” the duo had planned to run away.
As to the cost of the three-day search over rugged terrain, Sheriff Bill Masters said, “I haven’t gotten the helicopter bill yet.”
He went on to say, “Looking at all the man-hours we spent on it, it adds up,” although, as to the final out-of-pocket figure, he said, “If it’s less than $15,000, I’ll be shocked.”
The two boys could face further charges relating to vehicle collisions en route to Phoenix, and in the J.C. Penney thefts.