Jeff Walker, missing skier: Gun found with body suggests he committed suicide

Update: Yesterday, we reported that a body was found in an out-of-bounds area of Aspen Highlands and is presumed to be Jeff Walker, a skier who'd been missing since March 7; see our previous coverage below.

As if this news wasn't heartbreaking enough for Walker's friends, family members and loved ones, who mounted an extraordinary effort to find him, a new development adds even more sadness: A gun was found near the body and the man died of a gunshot wound, raising the likelihood that Walker took his own life.

As we've reported, the search for Walker began in earnest on March 9, after he hadn't turned up since skiing at the resort on Thursday. His belongings were found in a locker at the ski area, but he otherwise seemed to have vanished without a trace. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, a snowboarder found a body in a spot far beyond the official Highlands boundaries. The male victim was reportedlywearing a blue coat of the sort Walker is thought to have worn on the day he disappeared.

The Pitkin County Sheriff's Office subsequently released a map of the mountainous terrain, with a green arrow indicating just how far away from the ski area the body was located:

If the body is positively identified as Walker, as expected, this distance indicates why official and unofficial search parties hadn't found him despite nearly three weeks of intensive efforts.

Now, the Aspen Times reports that the man died of a gunshot wound, apparently from a weapon found beside the body. The most probable scenario is suicide.

Walker loved Aspen Highlands, often skiing the resort on a daily basis. Clearly, it was among his favorite places on the planet -- and, perhaps, where he chose to end his life.

Visitors to the Tie One on For Jeff Walker Facebook page, which coordinated the private search efforts for Walker, have focused their most recent posts on the loss of someone special, not the possible manner of death, and that's entirely appropriate. Here are a few examples:

Jeff. You wrote the book on how to live in the moment and live life to the fullest. Your glass was not half full, it was always full to the rim. You touched everyone you met in a wonderfully unique way that was always full of positive and beautiful energy. Everyone has an awesome 'Walker' story and I feel really privileged to have quite a few. You went way too soon but man did you leave an lasting impression on all who knew you. I know you have found peace.

The best way to honor Jeffrey is to continue living our lives and keeping his memory alive through every day events. Rest In Peace Jeff.

hey Jeff.. thanks for the love, compassion, fun times and being brother and uncle, to so many of us kids in this valley. You are missed....

Also popping up is this card from a very young person in Walker's life:

Continue for our previous coverage, including photos and videos. Update, 1:54 p.m. March 21: It's the news the friends, family and loved ones of Aspen's Jeff Walker have been dreading: A body has been found in an out-of-bounds section of the Aspen Highlands ski area.

Official identification has not yet been completed at this writing, but everyone involved presumes it to be Walker, who's been missing since earlier this month. Indeed, the Facebook page devoted to coordinating private search efforts is already filling up with tributes, testimonials and memories.

As we've reported, Walker, who worked in the Aspen area as a wine consultant, was a regular at the resort, often skiing there on a daily basis. Records showed that he used a lift just past noon on Thursday, March 7, after which his whereabouts were unknown -- and on Saturday, after pals notified authorities that he was missing, his belongings were found in a Highlands locker.

Since then, local authorities have completed many sweeps of the area, and members of Walker's personal circle pitched in as well. His brother, Buzz Walker, fronted an Indiegogo campaign that raised well over $18,000 toward continuing the search, and those represented by the Tie One on for Jeff Walker Facebook page affixed fliers like the one below to areas of the resort they'd personally checked out.

Then, yesterday afternoon, according to the Aspen Times, a snowboarder found a body in the Northwoods portion of the ski area, outside its formal boundaries. The victim is male and was clad in a blue coat of the sort Walker is thought to have worn on the day he disappeared.

The identification process is presumably going on right now, and we expect to know more shortly. In the meantime, though, posts are accruing on the Tie One on For Jeff Walker page, with even this vintage photograph turning up:

Here's a sampling of the sentiments:

Jeff, I am blessed to have known you and have you in my life. You were an amazing man, so full of love and happiness. You will be missed by everyone. Know that your boys have been such an amazing support system for each other and gave everything they had to bring you home. Your spirit will live on through each of them, but our Wednesday night dinners, summers at the pool, BBQs, wine experiences and every other day in Aspen will never be the same. We will miss you Jeff Walker and we love you.

Rest in Peace, Jefferson. I am very grateful to have known you. My heart and thoughts go out to his girlfriend, family, friends and the community of Aspen. May you find some comfort in memories, and by surrounding yourself with people that loved him dearly.

I was so sad to hear of today's news. I know everyone still had a ray of hope for some twist of luck for a different ending... I am thankful the family will at least have some peace in knowing, and take small comfort in the outpouring of love, help, concern and prayer. Jeff's spirit was so strong and special, bringing together all sorts of people who might not have even had the pleasure to know him.

Well buddy, I was hoping you were in Costa Rica somewhere living the high life...Glad you've been found and hope the ever after is one big Widespread show that never ends.

Continue for our previous coverage about the search for Jeff Walker, including photos and videos. Update, 9:03 a.m. March 15: Earlier this week, we shared information about the disappearance of Jeff Walker, 55, after a skiing visit to Aspen Highlands. As we noted in our previous coverage, on view below, the official search for Walker was called off after two days of combing the area produced no clues. But authorities were back out yesterday, encouraged by Walker's friends, family and loved ones, who have raised more than $18,000 to keep hope alive and have started a Facebook effort to put fliers near searched areas called "Tie One on For Jeff Walker." Get details and see a video and more below.

Walker, an Aspen area wine consultant, often skied at Highlands on a daily basis, and his pass showed that he used the Exhibition chairlift at 12:04 p.m. on Thursday, March 7. When he didn't turn up again by Saturday, his friends notified local authorities, who found his belongings in a locker at the resort.

Initially, the working theory was that Walker had run into trouble somewhere near one of his favorite spots at the area, Oly's Bowl. But searches on Sunday and Monday employing dozens of personnel, dogs and even a helicopter were unsuccessful. So the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office announced that the effort would be curtailed, although representatives left open the possibility of more targeted searches down the line.

That wasn't good enough for those closest to Walker. Tie One on for Jeff Walker, an open Facebook group with 480 members at this writing, has created the following flier, which describes the idea behind it and includes a number to phone for help:

The group has also become a gathering place for those concerned about Walker. Here's a sampling of recent posts:

Keep praying... Keep believing... We have nothing to lose.. He wants us to find him! God bless you all and keep the faith!!!

Stay warm, Jeff. Send a sign, please....

Don't give up! We are at 8 nights. Look it up, it's VERY possible!

What a gorgeous starry night. Jeff, I hope you are seeing the beautiful sky too! We will find you!

Such positive attitudes are important given the lack of results thus far. A 7News report notes that sheriff's office and Mountain Rescue Aspen teams spent Thursday looking for Walker around Oly's Bowl, with a smaller squad looking in what's described as "an area south of South Hayden Road in the Castle Creek Valley." None of them reported any leads.

In the meantime, Buzz Walker, Jeff's brother, is front and center in an Indiegogo campaign that set out to raise $10,000 toward continued search efforts. That the number is now over at $18,180 is an indication of how many folks are concerned about Jeff.

Buzz's description of the effort is eloquent in its simplicity: "My brother, Jeff Walker, has been missing on Aspen Highlands Mountain for almost a week now, we could use your resources to help find him.

"Please watch the short video to get the background. I would ask that, even though this has become a national story, please share this to all you know. We won't stop looking til we find him, but many of us are out of resources to continue and your giving can help offset this. Help us find Jeff!! His family and friends are missing him dearly."

Here's the video, followed by an embed about the campaign and our previous coverage.

Continue for our previous coverage of the search for Jeff Walker, including photos and videos. Original post, 6:55 a.m. March 12: Aspen area wine salesman Jeff Walker is reportedly 55 years old, but he certainly doesn't look it in the photo seen here or others from Denver-based girlfriend Liz Sathe's Facebook page. And he's as active as his youthful appearance implies, skiing most days at Aspen Highlands -- particularly the Highlands Bowl.

But Walker hasn't been seen since Thursday of last week -- and an extensive, two-day search of the resort, both in-bounds and out, has thus far proven unsuccessful. See more photos and videos below.

Walker was definitely at Aspen Highlands last week. According to the Aspen Daily News, his ski pass was scanned at the Exhibition chairlift at 12:04 p.m. that afternoon.

That's the last time his whereabouts were known with any certainty. By Saturday evening, Walker's friends were becoming worried and contacted the Aspen Police Department, which then reached out to the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office. Concern grew after Walker's belongings were found in an Aspen Highlands ski locker.

Before long, emergency personnel were mobilized, with a big assist from Walker's friends and loved ones. In all, dozens of people, including members of Mountain Rescue Aspen and Highlands Ski Patrol, combed all four mountains of the resort, venturing into out-of-bounds areas just in case Walker drifted from the designated runs.

Rescue dogs were also employed, 7News notes, as was a helicopter with what's known as a RECCO detector designed to locate people buried in the snow. Walker is thought to have been wearing a RECCO reflector on his jacket, the station reports, but the crew didn't register any hits.

At this point, authorities have broken off the full-scale search, but will continue conduct what 7News refers to as "targeted" explorations over the next several days. His friends still retain hope that he'll be found alive and safe.

If you have any information about Walker, contact the Pitkin County Sheriff's Office at 970-920-5300. In the meantime, here are three videos of the bowl at Aspen Highlands that Walker so loved.

More from our News archive: "Ski area death of Patsy Hileman shouldn't count toward resort fatalities, industry group says."

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