It’s been four years since Stephanie Higgins’ husband Shawn went missing in the wilds of Oregon, but she says it looks like it happened yesterday.
“I wake up every morning thinking about him … wondering where he is,” Stephanie told Dateline. “I know he didn’t just get lost. Something happened to him.”
Stephanie and Shawn started dating when they were only 15. They married when they were 20 and founded their family in Coos Bay, Oregon, where they raised two children. They often traveled with their family to the Siskiyou Mountains in southwestern Oregon.
“We knew that area well,”
It was the last place anyone ever saw Shawn.
On October 14, 2016, Shawn, his 21-year-old son Trevor, and Trevor’s uncle were out hunting at the Shasta Costa drainage in the Bear Camp area, about 45 miles east of Gold Beach, Oregon. Trevor and Shawn had gone their separate ways, but the plan was to meet up at the truck again later that day and then pick up Trevor’s uncle who was further away.
Stephanie told Dateline that Trevor, who had killed a dollar the day before, was waiting for his father at the truck, but he never showed up. He began to worry as it got dark and a storm started.
“Shawn was on a path that ran alongside a road,” he explained. “He’s an outdoorman who knew the area and knew Trevor was waiting for him. It makes no sense he didn’t make it that night.”
Stephanie added that Shawn knew it was such a quick trip to the woods, she didn’t even take the backpack with her. Inside the backpack was his GPS.
“If only he had taken it, we would have known where he is,” Stephanie said. “But he knew he would be right back. In his mind, there was no point in taking him.”
As the hours passed, Trevor’s uncle reached the truck at the meeting place and the two of them separated to find Shawn. But as it got darker, Trevor turned around. But instead of risking delving deeper into the wilderness, Stephanie said her son stayed where he was and built a shelter.
It was early the next morning when Stephanie got the news that her husband and son were missing. He said Trevor’s uncle was unable to find either of them and ended up calling the Curry County Sheriff’s Office.
“I was in shock,” Stephanie said. “Shawn would never have spent the night up there, not without the proper equipment. He would. The only thing I could hope for at the moment was that they would be reunited. ”
Search and rescue teams from several counties in the state responded to the area and assisted Curry County Search and Rescue scouring the treacherous terrain while the weather remained wet and cold.
Four days after the search, Trevor was found by search teams about two and a half miles from where he had entered the woods to look for his father. He was then flown by the United States Coast Guard to Bay Area Hospital, suffering from severe hypothermia due to his prolonged exposure to cold and humid weather.
“He wanted to know if his dad had gone back to the truck,” Stephanie said. “But I think he knew from the start – when his dad didn’t come out on the first day – that something was wrong.”
Stephanie told Dateline that she hoped her son had seen Shawn or some trace of him, but he hadn’t. Nobody had.
“I just find it odd that nothing of Shawn was found,” Stephanie said. “He had layers of clothing, a gun, bullets – but nothing was found?”
The search continued, and many crews spent the night braving the cold, wet weather to search longer and cover a larger area. K-9 units were introduced as drones and helicopters hovered in the sky above the trees. Hundreds of people in the community showed up to help find and provide food, clothing and supplies.
“Shawn is very loved,” said Stephanie. “And that was evident from how many people showed up for him in those weeks. There is still some good in this world. And I saw it in that community “.
But nine days later, on October 23, Shawn’s 42nd birthday, search and rescue teams from all over Oregon began demobilizing to go home. Shawn’s friends and colleagues continued the search on Monday, but on Tuesday, October 25, 2016, the Sheriff’s Department suspended the search for Shawn.
According to Curry County Sheriff John Ward, in the 11 days since Shawn’s disappearance, search teams had not discovered any trace of him and were no closer to knowing where he might be. With so much time going by, Sheriff Ward said the odds were against his survival.
“It is with a heavy heart that we need to suspend Shawn’s search right now,” he told media at the time. “Our hearts go out to the family, friends and community who love Shawn so much. We pray that they find a way to make sense of this tragedy and heal their hearts. The bond that the people of Coos County have with each other and how they come together to help each other is nothing short of amazing and an example for other communities to live with. I am very humiliated. “
Shawn’s friends and family were shocked by the announcement.
“We weren’t ready to give up,” Shawn’s sister Tara Fisher told Dateline. “We still don’t want to give up.”
Tara told Dateline that there have been countless stories and rumors over the years about what could have happened to her brother. Stories from the drug cartels to Big Foot. Some people believe Shawn fell into a ravine so treacherous that he was out of reach for search teams. Others believe it’s not even in the woods anymore.
“We heard everything,” Tara said. “But we’re no closer to finding Shawn. And that’s all we want.”
Stephanie and Shawn’s children, now 25 and 18, still live in Coos Bay. Stephanie gets busy with nursing school and Trevor now works with the Operators Union like her father. He said both of his sons continue to hunt.
“I’m worried every time they go into those woods,” Stephanie said. “But I know it’s something that makes them feel close to their dad. As a mom, I’m supposed to protect them. So the hardest part is not being able to protect them from this pain.”
Although there have been smaller searches in the past four years, the hope of finding Shawn has vanished. The Curry County Sheriff’s Office told Dateline that Shawn’s disappearance is still an open and active case and that they will investigate any suggestions and clues.
Stephanie told Dateline that she understands that people have to go back to their lives, but she wishes she could send thousands of people to search every day.
“It’s difficult, because we have no clues, we have no idea where he might be. Some of his friends don’t even believe he’s there, in the woods. They tell me, ‘He wasn’t found because he’s not in the woods,” Stephanie said. “My hope now is that maybe someone saw him that day or knows where he is. Something to put our minds at peace.”
Anyone with information on Shawn’s disappearance should call the Curry County Sheriff’s Office at (541) 247-3276.