Human Remains Identified as Missing Teen Joe Keller

Update: Last summer, Joe Keller, a nineteen-year-old from Cleveland, Tennessee, vanished in Conejos County; see our previous coverage below.

In the wake of the disappearance, an extensive search was conducted in the area, and a psychic even shared a premonition that the teen was somewhere in Arizona — a tip passed along by those administering a Facebook page that served as an online nexus for news about Keller because they were admittedly desperate for any positive developments.

Now, however, the scenario that Keller's friends, family and loved ones feared the most has come to pass. DNA tests have positively identified human remains found last month as Keller.

As we've reported, Keller and a group of friends visited Conejos County's Rainbow Trout Ranch last July. Then, at around 4:30 p.m. on July 23, 2015, Keller and a pal went out for a jog and got separated. Keller was never seen again.

Speculation about this mystery ran the gamut, with foul play among the possibilities considered.

But clues were scarce, and after about a month or so, the search for Keller was suspended.
Seasons passed, and on July 6, according to the Conejos County Sheriff's Office, a hiker traversing Conejos Canyon spotted human remains near Forest Service Road 250, about four miles west of Highway 17.

In the days that followed, the CCSO, in conjunction with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and search-and-rescue teams from Alamosa and Archuleta counties, recovered the remains, which were subjected to DNA testing for purposes of identification.

The announcement about the outcome shared yesterday on the Find Joe Keller Facebook page is simple and straightforward.
Dear friends,

The DNA results have come back and confirmed that the remains found on July 6, 2016 in the Conejos Canyon are indeed Joe. Continue to keep the Kellers in your prayers [as] they prepare to bring him home.

Thank you
Afterward, the page was removed and memorial notes began to appear. One reads, "Been a long year. Rest in peace, Joe."

The case is still open. If you have any information, you're encouraged to contact the Conejos County Sheriff's Office at 719-376-6778 or the Bradley County Sheriff's Office in Tennessee at 423-728-7300.

Continue for our earlier reports.
Update 6:56 a.m. August 18, 2015: There have been some new developments in the search for Joe Keller, a nineteen-year-old from Cleveland, Tennessee, who's been missing in Conejos County since late last month.

Two deputies from Bradley County, Tennessee, traveled to Colorado to take part in search efforts, but they didn't uncover any new information about Keller's whereabouts.

In the meantime, the friend with whom Keller was running when he vanished has stepped forward — and Keller's family has increased the reward for information concerning the teen's location from $10,000 to $50,000.

In addition, a fledgling psychic has suggested that Keller may now be in Arizona — news the concerned folks at the Find Joe Keller Facebook page have passed along because "we are desperate."

As we've reported, Keller and a group of pals traveled from Tennessee to Rainbow Trout Ranch in Conejos County. About 4:30 p.m. on July 23, he and a friend, now identified as Colin Gwaltney, went out for a jog together. But along the way, Keller took a turn.

"We went running on a forestry service road that was pretty well maintained," Gwaltney tells Tennessee's WTVC-TV in a video on view below. "It was gravel and pretty flat, with a few curves. But if you ran off the road, there were pretty steep places."

After Keller didn't return by dinnertime, a search was launched. But thus far, there's been no sign of him.

Gwaltney doesn't think Keller ran off of his own free will. "He was overall very happy," he maintains. "We'd joke around. He never showed any signs of wanting to intentionally leave."

With that in mind, he thinks "one of the biggest possibilities" is "kidnapping. Someone driving by and picking him up."

This possibility is among the explanations being explored by the Bradley County Sheriff's Office, which has consulted with the FBI on the case — and on August 9, the BCSO Facebook page announced that Lieutenant Brian Quinn and Detective Sergeant Kevin Chastain were traveling to Colorado to lend a hand with the investigation.

Unfortunately, the pair didn't achieve a breakthrough. The Chattanooga Times Free Press notes that the law enforcers worked with Keller's family members and Conejos County authorities to search the area surrounding and east of the Rainbow Trout Lodge — but "no new evidence was uncovered."

The increase in the amount of the award is an effort to move the inquiry forward — and updates on the Find Joe Keller page are posted regularly. This one appeared on August 13:
Okay Friends of Joe Keller. This might be a long shot but here goes....

Yesterday we got a PM from a person who is "new to discovering psychic intuitions." She feels that Joe is in the western side of Sedona, Arizona.

We have e-mailed the Sedona Police Dept and the Sedona Red Rock Newspaper with fliers in English and Spanish.

This may be a long shot, but we are desperate.

If you have any info about the case, you're encouraged to contact the Conejos County Sheriff's office at 719-589-5807 or 719-376-2196 (option 4).

Here's the aforementioned WTVC report, followed by our previous coverage.

Update, 9:56 a.m. August 6: Still no sign of Joe Keller, a nineteen-year-old from Cleveland, Tennessee, who went missing after going on a run in Conejos County late last month; see our previous coverage below.

Now, however, the FBI is among the agencies being consulted — an indication that law enforcement is looking seriously at the possibility of foul play, as opposed to a simple disappearance.

As we've reported, Keller and a group of friends were traveling cross country when they stopped at Rainbow Trout Ranch in Conejos County. About 4:30 p.m. on July 23, he and a friend went out for a jog and are said to have gotten separated — and Keller never returned.

After more than a week of efforts, the Conejos County Sheriff's Office announced that the search for Keller was being suspended, although the investigation into his whereabouts would continue.

Shortly thereafter, the Bradley County Sheriff's Office in Keller's hometown issued a release announcing that Sheriff Eric Watson "has offered to send a Special Response Team, as well as other resources to help Colorado authorities in their search" for Keller, described as "a well-known young man who has lived in the Bradley County area."

Conejos County "declined our offer of help," the release goes on. But Watson notes that his office is staying in touch with authorities there and "continues following up leads locally into Mr. Keller's activities before he left for Colorado with friends."

In addition, "Bradley County investigators have sought and received the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well in gathering and disseminating information."

Sheriff Watson is quoted as saying, "We stand ready to assist Colorado officers in any way they see fit" and stresses that "Joseph Keller and his family are in our thoughts and prayers, of course."

See our previous coverage below.

Original post, 5:52 a.m. August 4: Joe Keller, a nineteen-year-old from Cleveland,Tennessee, went for a run in a remote part of Conejos County on July 23.

No one has seen him since.

Over the ensuing week-plus, an exhaustive search has taken place without turning up any meaningful clues as to his whereabouts.

As a result, the search is being suspended, but the investigation continues — and a law-enforcement rep says that foul play is among the scenarios being explored.

Joe is a striking presence, as is seen in this Facebook collage.

According to the Find Joe Keller Facebook page, Joe was traveling with friends on a cross-country road trip when they made a stop at Rainbow Trout Ranch.

The popular tourist destination is hyped by this movie-trailer-style video:

As noted by WCRB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Joe and a friend left for a jog in an area just west of Horca at about 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 23.

The pair subsequently got separated, and Joe didn't return.

A search began that evening and continued throughout the days that followed.

At first, the working theory was that Joe had become disoriented due to altitude sickness; the area where he disappeared tops 8,000 feet above sea level.

However, this wasn't the only potential explanation under examination.

On July 28, the CCSO posted this photo of Joe....

...and noted that the "Conejos County Sheriff's Office has been coordinating the search and investigation of Keller's disappearance with assistance from many agencies and volunteers. Sheriff [Howard] Galvez is not ruling out foul play and hopes that Keller will be found alive."

In addition, Joe's family offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to his safe return, as spelled out on this poster, which includes contact information.

Three days later, on July 31, the CCSO shared this image.... well as this one....

...and this one.... illustrate the type of terrain being searched.

Then, yesterday afternoon, the CCSO posted the following announcement:
The official search for Mr. Keller has been suspended but the investigation is continuing. We have exhausted the search resources available to us for the time being and have uncovered no information that would lead us to believe that continuing to search right now is the best use of resources. If we can uncover new information that warrants resuming the search, we will do so. There have been several reports of possible sightings. These and all other leads have been checked and will continue to be checked, but so far nothing has panned out. We know how difficult this past week and a half has been for Mr. Keller's friends and family, and we appreciate the support and prayers that the public has continues to offer on their behalf.
Again, if you have any information about Joe's whereabouts, you're encouraged to contact the Conejos County Sheriff's Office at 719-376-6778.

Our thoughts are with his friends, family and loved ones.

Here's a WRCB-TV report about the search. | Chattanooga News, Weather
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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