Ryder Johnson ID'd From Human Remains, Family Saddened, Relieved

A portrait of the late Ryder Johnson.
A portrait of the late Ryder Johnson. Courtesy of the Johnson family
Skeletal remains found near South Boulder Creek east of Gross Reservoir have been formally identified as Ryder Johnson, who vanished on January 17, 2016, after a day of work at Eldora ski resort. Johnson's family, which offered a six-figure reward in connection with his disappearance, has released a statement expressing a mixture of grief and relief over confirmation of a fate members had long feared.

As we've reported, a Boulder County Sheriff's Office release revealed that the BCSO was contacted late on Saturday, July 29, by a fisherman who "had been bushwhacking along the creek in the Walker Ranch Open Space as he traveled east from Fisherman's Point when he happened upon the remains." A recovery effort was launched the following day, with investigators from the sheriff's office and the Boulder County Coroner's Office, as well as personnel from Front Range Rescue Dogs, taking part. The remains were found that same day; they are believed to have been "moved by wildlife" to the location.

The release added: "The sheriff's office has one open 'missing persons' case that involves the general area of Walker Ranch, where the skeletal remains were located. Ryder Johnson, then twenty, was reported missing in January 2016, and his car was subsequently located, abandoned, in the 5800 block of Gross Dam Road. Multiple searches of the Gross Reservoir and Walker Ranch areas were undertaken at the time, all of which were unsuccessful in locating Johnson or any additional information or evidence related to his disappearance."

The BCSO stressed that "it has not yet been determined if the skeletal remains are related to the Ryder Johnson missing-person investigation or not," and this note of caution was understandable. After all, an Eldora staffer located a human foot and leg bone in June of last year, leading to immediate speculation that the remains would be traced to Johnson. Within a day, however, the sheriff's office doused this theory, likely because of the size and/or brand of the boot in which the foot was found.

"The boot an employee of the ski resort is a left men's Rugged Outback snow-style boot," a BCSO announcement noted. "Inside the boot was a black sock and human remains consisting of a foot and the lower leg bones. The boot is a size 13. Yesterday's initial search of the immediate area where the boot was located was estimated to have been approximately 40,000 square yards...and no additional remains or related evidence was located. The investigative effort to identify who the remains belong to is occurring contemporaneous to the search effort. The preliminary investigation has led investigators to believe the remains are not those of Ryder Johnson."

click to enlarge Photos of Ryder Johnson from the Ryder's Fund webpage, to which his family encourages donations. - YMCABV.ORG
Photos of Ryder Johnson from the Ryder's Fund webpage, to which his family encourages donations.
Since then, Johnson's loved ones have worked hard to keep attention on the case. In August 2016, we spoke to Rick Johnson, Ryder's dad, who revealed that friends and family had put up a $100,000 reward for information in the case. This amount had an expiration date — January 17, 2017, the one-year anniversary of his vanishing — in part because "we wanted to give it some sense of urgency," Rick told us.

The date passed without a breakthrough, and while the deadline was extended the following month, no new clues about Johnson surfaced prior to the 29th.

In a statement released after the Boulder Coroner's Office identified the remains as Johnson, his parents, Rick and Cindy, and sister Taylor released a statement that reads in part, "After a year and a half, it is with mixed emotions that we receive the news of the recovery of Ryder's remains. The journey of a missing child and sibling is an especially difficult and uncertain one, but we have been sustained and lifted up by faith, hope and love. We are saddened by the loss of our son and brother, relieved that we can finally bring Ryder home and grateful for the twenty years he enriched our lives."

The Johnsons encourage those wishing to remember Ryder to donate to Ryder's Fund, established through the Boulder Valley branch of the YMCA. The fund's webpage includes photos of Ryder over the years shared above and the following introduction:
Ryder’s Fund is a charitable endowment created in celebration of Ryder Johnson’s life and directed to enhancing the healthy development of young people in our community and assisting them with life’s challenges. The fund will seek opportunities for collaboration with local law enforcement officials to maximize impact and include grants to local organizations providing more specialized services.

Ryder Johnson had a direct and meaningful history with the YMCA of Boulder Valley. He played hockey for many years at the Arapahoe YMCA and especially loved to play goalie. He also participated in many other sports and programs through the years. It is therefore appropriate for a fund bearing his name to be administered through the YMCA’s Endowment Committee. A member of the Johnson family will serve on the Endowment Committee to ensure that the purposes of the fund are carried out and the lives of young people in our community are nurtured, enhanced and enriched. 
Within weeks of Johnson being reported missing, Boulder County Sheriff's Office reps suggested that he may have left town by his own choice. This same line of reasoning has been applied to the case of Seth Kienzle, who disappeared from the Boulder area in February 2016, just over a month after Johnson vanished. More than a year later, Kienzle's loved ones remain convinced that he didn't simply drop out of sight.

"It's definitely very strange how similar his story is to Seth's," Maggie Fitzgerald, a friend of Kienzle's, told us in June. "They were in such close proximity, they were so close in age, both of their cars had been abandoned." She had no indication that Johnson and Kienzle knew each other or that their fates were connected in any way. "It could be completely coincidental," she conceded, "but it's something we've all been interested in."

Click in order to donate to Ryder's Fund.
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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.
Contact: Michael Roberts