The investigation into the July 22 disappearance of 28-year-old Worland woman Breanna Mitchell continues, but massive search efforts on 20 square miles of the Nowater Trail area of Washakie County are over for now.
Washakie County Sheriff Austin Brookwell published the "last public update" on the search for Mitchell at the conclusion of the final large search effort Friday. Brookwell said he’s used every tool at his disposal over nearly a month of continuous searches, including personnel from several counties who volunteered their time and experience.
"A total of 45 search and rescue personnel from Washakie County (including one helicopter), Hot Springs County, Park County, Sheridan County, Johnson County and Big Horn County arrived at the area where Breanna's vehicle was last. SAR personnel from the above-listed counties searched the area until it was dark," Brookwell said.
Despite the quality of the volunteers and the resources used, Brookwell said, "nothing of importance was discovered.”
Searching With No Success
Mitchell's vehicle was found abandoned on a two-track trail in the area surrounding the Nowater Trail on July 24. No clues or evidence has been found since then.
The search for Mitchell has included a bloodhound crew from Fremont County, a cadaver dog and a drone from the Cody-based company Find-911.
Earlier this month, the Washakie County Volunteer Fire Department and a private company provided several water pumps to drain a pond to search for human remains. Nothing was found.
Brookwell estimated that in the weeks since Mitchell's disappearance, SAR personnel searched an area of around 20 square miles. He expressed gratitude for the people who volunteered to assist his deputies.
"It was truly impressive to make a phone call and have this amount of support show up. Wyoming is truly lucky to have these individuals volunteering their time to assist with lost and missing persons," he said.
Investigating Evidence, Not Rumors
Brookwell said the Washakie County Sheriff's Office will not conduct additional searches unless there is a significant lead in the investigation, which continues.
Find-911 is processing all the images taken by its drone and will submit a report to the Washakie County Sheriff's Office soon. Meanwhile, sheriff's office personnel are still investigating call logs and text messages from Mitchell's phone to determine her last known location.
They obtained Mitchell's phone records through a search warrant presented to Verizon Wireless. Similar search warrants have been sent to Facebook and Snapchat, but have not produced anything yet.
"These large companies can take quite some time to get this information to us," Brookwell said.
The final search was a recovery rather than a rescue, meaning Mitchell is believed to be dead. However, that belief is not changing the nature of the investigation.
"We currently have no evidence to prove there was any foul play regarding her disappearance," Brookwell said. "Remember, we have to work on evidence, not on rumors."
Public Search But Safety First
Since Mitchell's disappearance, Brookwell has not discouraged anyone from the public from searching the area, but he wants them to do it safely.
"I understand individuals would like to help," he said in an Aug. 8 Facebook post. "If you do come to search, please ... bring plenty of water and do not get lost."
He also wants anyone who believes they've made a discovery to leave the scene undisturbed so no potential evidence is lost.
"I am asking anyone who comes out to search if you happen to come across what looks like human remains or items that could be evidence, DO NOT TOUCH ANYTHING!" he posted. "Call it in (307-347-2242) and give the GPS coordinates to dispatch or find a SAR unit that may be close to you and let them know.”
Andrew Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.