Seth Kienzle disappeared in Boulder on February 19, 2016, just over a month after Ryder Johnson vanished elsewhere in the county. More than a year later, both remain missing. Now, one of Kienzle's longtime friends, who's frustrated by the decision of law enforcement to stop searching for him based on a theory she doubts, is sharing his story in the hope of finally solving a mystery that grows deeper and more heartbreaking with each passing day.
"It's almost unimaginable that something like this actually happened," says Maggie Fitzgerald, who first met Kienzle at around age fifteen, when they attended the same Massachusetts boarding school.
After Kienzle completed his schooling back east, he headed to Fort Collins, where his mother lived, and in 2007, Fitzgerald followed. "The Seth I knew was the brightest light," she says. "He was outgoing and empathetic and kind and thoughtful and energetic. He really appreciated life and he appreciated the connections that he made in life. Everyone loved Seth: I don't think I ever met one person who came into contact with him that didn't fall in love with him. He was very charismatic and would do anything for anyone."
Kienzle and Fitzgerald lived together for four years in Colorado, after which she headed back to her home state of Connecticut for a job opportunity. But she remained friendly with Kienzle and they were in regular contact up until the last couple of months before he went missing; she thinks the last time they spoke was probably around Christmas 2015. However, she's stayed close with mutual friends and Kienzle's father, Bob, all of whom have kept her up to date with what's happened in the wake of his disappearance.
Kienzle, who made his home in Denver, was supposed to meet friends in Fort Collins on February 19th last year, but he never arrived. "People were calling around and looking for him, but they were unable to get his phone," Fitzgerald notes. "I believe it was off. And friends had gone to his house to see if he was there, and he wasn't there, either."
Shortly thereafter, authorities in Boulder found his car abandoned near the intersection of Wild Horse Circle and Linden Drive, in the northern part of the community. The location is just over seventeen miles from the Gross Dam Overlook parking area where Johnson's car was found after he was last seen on January 17.
The windows were down on Kienzle's car, Fitzgerald points out, leading some to think that he might have still been in the vicinity. "It started as what you'd assume is a normal search for a missing person: drones, dogs, a ground team, a helicopter," she explains. "A group of his friends tried to go out immediately after everyone found out he was missing, too, but because of the elevation and terrain, they were asked not to go out right away, because of evidence they might not have been able to find."
Eventually, Kienzle's loved ones were allowed to help with the search, but clues proved elusive. Then, as reported by the Boulder Daily Camera, a resident living on Carriage Hills Drive, in an area northwest of Boulder's city limits, reported seeing him on February 23, four days after the failed rendezvous, and surveillance footage on the man's security system backed up his assertion.
What did the video show? As Fitzgerald understands it, "he knocked on the door late at night and a gentleman answered — and he was startled. Seth asked if the party was there, and the man shut the door."
This interaction "changed things in two ways," Boulder County Sheriff's Commander Heidi Prentup told the Camera. "One, that we knew he was still up in the area. We knew he didn't dump his car in the middle of the street and jump in someone else's. But, two, it also shows us that he didn't knock on the door of the home and say, 'I need help.'"
Prentup added that officials believed Kienzle "has suffered from drug addiction" — but even if that was the case, law enforcers wouldn't have taken it upon themselves to find him without a further indication that he was in need of help. As she put it, "He's an adult, and he can go missing if he wants to."
True enough. Take the case of Raven Furlong, a seventeen-year-old from Aurora who disappeared in 2013. In our coverage, we revealed that she was found in Los Angeles, where she told officers she didn't want to return to her family — and because she'd turned eighteen since she'd been reported missing, she had every right as a legal adult to make her own decisions.
After the surveillance video of Kienzle came to light, Fitzgerald recalls, "the search all came to a halt." The matter officially remains open, but the sheriff's office "is not necessarily going to put out a lot of effort if they feel he left of his own free will. A couple of months ago, I touched base with the detective who's still assigned to the case, and he said there were no new leads and they wouldn't make any more search efforts until they had some. I asked if foul play had been ruled out, and he said they can't rule anything out — but that's because there's just not enough evidence."
Even so, Fitzgerald doesn't believe Kienzle would have simply left the area without letting anyone know. "Seth definitely had some run-ins with the law regarding drugs and things a year or two before he went missing," she acknowledges. "But he had been in a similar kind of trouble when he was younger, and it wasn't anything he ever ran away from. If he got in trouble, he got in trouble, but he never ran away, never tried to disappear. He faced it head on and would take care of whatever needed to be taken care of."
The mention of drugs also had what Fitzgerald sees as an unfortunate impact on the public's interest in the case. "It's part of the story," she concedes. "It's a fact, and you need to include it. But I think it kind of deterred people from the story more than it should have."
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Over the year-plus that's passed since, Kienzle's loved ones have remained on the lookout for him even as they've tried to keep their darkest thoughts at bay. "I think everybody goes back and forth between foul play and a situation of getting stuck in the woods," Fitzgerald says. "It's hard to imagine he would still be with us without one person hearing from him. He was a very social, very well-loved person, and it's uncommon for him not to have constant communication with at least one person."
Johnson's disappearance is just as puzzling; even a $100,000 reward offered by his father failed to crack the case. "It's definitely very strange how similar his story is to Seth's," Fitzgerald allows. "They were in such close proximity, they were so close in age, both of their cars had been abandoned." She has no indication that Johnson and Kienzle knew each other or that their fates are connected in any way. Yet she can't help wondering. "It could be completely coincidental," she concedes, "but it's something we've all been interested in."
In the end, Fitzgerald simply wants to know what happened, and she hopes that reminding people about Kienzle could lead to fresh information. "Obviously, it's difficult not to know what happened, and you really don't know what the right thing to do is," she says. "Do you keep looking? Do you try to accept that he may no longer be with us? It's a struggle."
If you have any information about the whereabouts of Seth Kienzle and/or Ryder Johnson, contact the Boulder County Sheriff's Office at 303-441-4444 or click to access their pages on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database.