Updated: Searchers find Western Slope deputy, firefighter missing since Tuesday deceased
GYPSUM — Almost four days after he went missing, searchers found a missing Gypsum man Friday.
Tayler Esslinger, 26, an Eagle County Sheriff’s Deputy and volunteer fire fighter in Gypsum, was found deceased in his truck. He was last heard from around 4 a.m. Tuesday when his cell phone pinged.
“It is with great sadness that the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed, from the Garfield County Coroner’s office, that Tayler Esslinger was found deceased in his vehicle this afternoon,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a press release Friday afternoon. “We are very heartbroken by today’s turn of events in this discovery.”
Massive volunteer search effort
When local law enforcement asked for help in their search for Esslinger, volunteers came by the dozen, some from as far away as Castle Rock. They went out into the backcountry in four-wheel drive vehicles, ATVs, dirt bikes, on horseback and on foot. Fifteen-year-old Logan Trujillo rode his KTM 250 dirt bike. One of his Eagle Valley High School teachers fussed over him a little, making sure he was carrying plenty of water.
The Salvation Army’s mobile kitchen rolled in to make sure the searchers had the fuel they needed.
HAATS helicopters took to the air, as did spotter planes geared up with all kinds of search equipment. It was one of those choppers that found Esslinger’s truck in eastern Garfield County, Porter said.
More than 75 volunteers joined the search Friday morning, locating Esslinger’s black Dodge Ram pickup around 10:45 a.m., confirmed Jessie Porter, public information officer with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. A few minutes after the truck was located, Gypsum Fire Chief Justin Kirkland summoned his crew to a private room in the firehouse.
All search teams were recalled from their field efforts after Esslinger’s truck was found, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said.
“While it was not the outcome we had all been hoping and praying for, these last few days have shown how the circumstances of one individual can pull us together to make us all stronger. The love and support this community has shown in the search for Tayler has been beyond words. This support has been a comfort to his family, friends, co-workers, and the entire community,” the Sheriff’s Office said.
“The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office cannot thank our community enough for the enormous outpouring of support during this difficult time. Numerous volunteers joined us in searching for Tayler by donating their personal time and vehicles to assist in the days following Tayler’s disappearance,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a social media post.
Local born and raised
Esslinger was born and raised in Eagle County and graduated Eagle Valley High School, just a few yards down the hill from the Gypsum firehouse where the searchers were gathered and briefed Friday morning. Many know Esslinger. Some don’t. They just know he’s out there, possibly hurt, possibly worse.
Phone pinged 4 a.m. Tuesday
For this search, Doug Cupp was the operations section chief. The rest of the time he’s fire chief for the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District.
“We wouldn’t be able to do this without all these volunteers,” Cupp said. “It’s great to see the community rise to this.”
Searchers were assigned to areas they know. Hunters and outfitters offered information and wisdom about the area where Esslinger was last known to be.
Esslinger’s phone pinged at 4 a.m. Tuesday in a remote area of western Eagle County, so that’s where the search started. It’ll be systematic and organized, said Ross Wilmore with the Northwest Colorado Incident Management Team.
The search started early Tuesday with family and friends. Almost immediately volunteers began pitching in prior to Friday’s overwhelming response.
“We offer our sincerest condolences to the Esslinger family, extended family, and friends. We ask that you respect the family’s privacy during this sorrowful time,” the Sheriff’s Office said.