PHOENIX – On Thrusday, The National Park Service it is focusing the search for two missing hikers, as of Thursday morning.
The NPS says the search for the two missing hikers 62-year-old LouAnn Merrell and 14-year-old Jackson Standefer related to the co-founder of the Merrell Boot Co. is difficult and complex and that it is not requesting any additional resources despite an announcement from the family that it planned on sending its own support.
A spokeswoman said Wednesday that the park service is working closely with the family and is considering the resources their family has suggested donating. Standefer is a student at McCallie School in Chattanooga.
Today the NPS will focus search efforts along the Colorado River below the confluence with Tapeats Creek with a search crew operating an inflatable motor raft. If no additional information is discovered or received today, starting Friday April 21 the search will continue in a limited and continuous mode focused on public outreach and search efforts during regular backcountry patrols. The NPS will continue to follow up and investigate any new information that it receives.
A statement released on Thursday morning from Standefer’s uncle, Mark McOmie, says the National Park Service has announced it is ending the search.
“[Wednesday] evening, the National Park Service announced that they were calling off the search for Jackson Standefer and LouAnn Merrell, who have been missing in the Grand Canyon since Saturday evening. The families would like to thank everyone for their tremendous out pouring of love, prayers and support throughout this tragic ordeal. Please respect both families’ need for privacy as they come to process and seek God’s comfort during this difficult time. We believe families are forever and we will be reunited with our loved ones.”
The family announced late Tuesday night that the Merrell company would be providing climbers and rescuers and that the family of the missing boy was offering a military-grade drone to assist in the search. The Merrell company is owned by Wolverine Worldwide.
LouAnn Merrell, the wife of Randy Merrell, was with her husband, stepgrandson and the boy’s mother on a multi-day hike in a remote area of the Grand Canyon on Saturday when she and the boy lost footing and were swept away by water. (LouAnn Merrell has been previously referred to as Lou-Ann, which is how she identifies on her Facebook page, but a spokesman for the families of both hikers says it is spelled without a hyphen).
We are grateful to the people working around the clock and continue to be hopeful. pic.twitter.com/OutErPmp8G
— Merrell® Outside (@merrelloutside) April 19, 2017
But the intense search for Merrell and Standefer continues, said spokeswoman Robin Martin.
The National Park Service on Wednesday again deployed three ground search teams, a helicopter, a drone and an inflatable motor raft.
Ground search crews have spent the night at the bottom of the canyon for several nights, although their searches only take place in daylight.
Martin said weather has also been about the same as the last few days, with clear and breezy daytime temperatures in the mid-90s and overnight lows in the 50s.
The Grand Canyon is consistently one of the most popular attractions in the United States, drawing nearly 6 million people last year.
But the park’s nearly 2,000 square miles, steep cliffs and mesmerizing views have often led to accidents and deaths.
The park service reported over 1,000 medical emergencies, 15 deaths and 318 search and rescue incidents in 2015, the last readily available data.
The remote area where the family was hiking on multi-day backpacking trip is at the bottom of the canyon near the North Rim, a much-less visited area of the park.
Experts like Matthew Nelson, the executive director of the Arizona Trial Association and a former Grand Canyon backpacking guide, say hiking down to the Tapeats Creek area where the two went missing is arduous and requires at least a couple of days and some experience in backpacking.
Nelson said in an Associated Press interview on Tuesday that the creek where Merrell and Standefer went missing can get heavy water flow after the winter, when snow from the North Rim melts and travels down the canyon.
He said that area is particularly hot during the day and doesn’t cool off very much because of the geology.
“This is one of the gems of backpacking in the Grand Canyon,” Nelson said.
Standefer’s classmates at McCallie continue to pray for his safe return.
The Merrell and Standefer families released the following statement Thursday morning:
This morning the Merrell and Standefer families are still praying for a miracle in Grand Canyon National Park. Today, April 20, the search for Lou Ann Merrell and Jackson Standefer will continue on a limited basis. After carefully considering all the information available to us, and based on our personal knowledge of the search area, we support Grand Canyon National Park’s (GCNP) decision to scale back the search.
We thank the GCNP staff for their exemplary service. We know they have done everything possible since Saturday, April 15, to find Lou Ann and Jackson. We also know countless people were praying for a much different outcome than this one. We felt your prayers and were sustained by them in ways we cannot begin to describe. We are profoundly grateful for the support that continues to pour in from across the country.
We thank GCNP, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Uintah County (Utah) search and rescue, Merrell Boot Co., SKYTEC of Chattanooga, TN, Xanterra Hospitality, and all others who volunteered their time, talents and equipment in the effort to find Lou Ann and Jackson.
GCNP is expected to release information about the search effort. Please direct all search related questions to GCNP.
We ask that you please continue to pray for our families, as our loved ones are still missing, and please respect our privacy at this time.
The Merrell and Standefer families
No further information is available at this time.