The mystery has lingered for more than a year — and its resolution is an ineffably sad one.
Jack McAtee, a man from the St. Louis area who was living in Breckenridge, vanished after leaving a Frisco medical facility following a strange accident more than a year ago.
Now, a skull found on a Frisco mountain two months ago has been positively identified as McAtee's — and his family, which made heroic efforts to find him, is grappling with the finality of his loss.
The Find Jack McAtee website documents the search for Jack and shares memories of a young man gone far too soon.
The photo on the home page of the Find Jack McAtee website.
Courtesy of the McAtee family
Jack was an adventurous type. Blogs on the site note that his favorite book was Into the Wild and suggest that he may have wound up in a series of geographically remote places — or perhaps the Burning Man festival.
The following entry, written by Jack's dad, Steve McAtee, gives an idea of his character.
I love my son's heart! I recently came across an incredible picture of him streaking across the Alaskan skies as co-pilot in formation with a group of fighter pilots passing closely by the mid section of Mount McKinley at approximately 11,000 feet on a perfectly clear day in a Diamond formation of high-speed experimental aircraft. This has been a biannual Sport Aviation expedition lead by my brother Tucker accompanied by a storied group of ex-fighter pilots for the past eight years. Passing right in front of Mount McKinley on a perfectly clear day, staring at that picture, I realized how much I love the heart of my son Jack, known for his quest for adventure and fearless expedition.
There's no one I have ever met in my life that has a more tender heart for God than our Jack. A couple of years ago during this Christmas season in December, Jack was in the midst of a thirty-day stint volunteering at a homeless shelter downtown.Living there 24/7.He loved being there, helping and encouraging the homeless, making them feel better about themselves. Giving them a feeling of self worth and light at the end of the tunnel. Hope. That is the kind of heart he has. Always holding out hope for others. Perhaps at times so much so to the negation of his own hope. Gregarious, lovable, brilliant: all words commonly used to describe Jack by those who have known him.
The mention of fighter pilots in Alaska is a reference to what the Summit Daily calls a voyage "up the Alaskan coast with a group of ex-fighter pilots, flying in close formation" that resulted in a 2008 movie entitled Pushing the Envelope.
Here's a trailer for that film.
Several years later, Jack wound up in Breckenridge, where he worked for the Breckenridge Hat Co.
Then, on September 18, 2014, several days after he reportedly stopped taking medication for bipolar disorder, Jack's car rolled into Dillion Reservoir.
He managed to swim to safety, and while a Colorado State Trooper felt that his behavior was erratic, he didn't appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The next day, after a conversation with a psychologist, Jack checked out of the Summit Medical Center. Around this time, he told his boss at the hat company that he would be leaving his job and moving out of the area, the Daily notes.
And then he disappeared.
Another portrait of Jack McAtee.
Courtesy of the McAtee family
After Jack was reported missing, the McAtee family came to Colorado to search for him.
Their efforts are documented in the following video, which begins with a message for Jack and includes images of the reservoir.
No progress was made in locating Jack over the months that followed.
And then, on August 11, two hikers descending from 12,900 foot Peak 1 in Frisco found a human skull.
Tests were made to determine the identity of the skull — and a match was eventually made with Jack.
Afterward, the McAtee family posted the following message on the aforementioned website.
Jack in the cockpit.
Courtesy of the McAtee family
Today, October 9th, marks 383 days since Jack’s disappearance from Frisco, Colorado on September 19, 2014. Many are aware that our family has been vigilantly waiting eight weeks for the results of our DNA cross comparison tests with that of a skull found on August 11, 2015 near the top of the Peak One, immediately south of Frisco, Colorado on the 10 mile range. Forty eight hours ago, I received a call from the Summit County sheriff’s office with whom we have worked diligently in search of Jack for the past year -"The results of the DNA test have been completed and indeed provide a positive match that the skull found was Jack's."
We are in awe of the Breckenridge Search and Rescue Team which dedicated thousands of man-hours on the mountain in search of additional evidence in a very steep dangerous area prone to avalanche just shy of the 12,900 foot peak. We remember all of the trucking companies which so eagerly put Jack's picture out to the cell phones of their drivers, multiple thousands of them across the country looking for him on the highways and byways. We remember all of the hunters which flowed into all points in Summit County with the assistance of the Colorado Department of Wildlife, looking for Jack in the mountain wilderness last fall. We remember all of the National truck stop companies which posted Jack's picture on the front door of every location. We're deeply touched by the countless people having come forward to eagerly assist our search for Jack nationally. His story hit the nerve with many as nearly 50,000 have accessed the website: www.findjackmcatee.com. Thank you, all of you, for your prayers, strength, love, and support.
In lieu of flowers, we are asking anyone so inclined to make a donation to Living Water International — a 501 (c3) organization which was near and dear to Jack’s heart. We would like to build a well or multiple wells in Kenya, in Jack’s name to give the gift of water, where we can go and be reminded of the incredible grace and love that God has for us. Please direct all contributions to: www.water.cc/jack-mcatees-well-of-love.
So, our search has come to fruition. Our closure is at hand, albeit we acknowledge it will be a lifelong process. As our family gathered to hear the news I had received, our collective tears streamed down, and we let them flow as freely as they would, making of them a pillow for our hearts. There's nobody now who saw just what Jack saw, knows what he knew, remembers what he remembered, loves what he loved. A person, an-irreplaceable person, is gone. Our family, all of us, are in solidarity with those who sit beside us on humanity's mourning bench. However far be it from this family to wallow away in despair, bitterness, hopelessness. For we know beyond the shadow of doubt, that Jack is with his Father in heaven now, without a trace of mental illness, absent from all evil, exploring the mountain tops of heaven, eagerly anticipating our arrival.
Please join our family as we celebrate Jack’s life with Greg Holder on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at 11:00 AM at Windsor Crossing Community Church located at 114 N Eatherton Road, Chesterfield, MO. 63005.
May God richly bless each of you and hold you in the palm of His hand. We love you!
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Our sincere condolences to the friends, family and loved ones of Jack McAtee.