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Daughter Still Searching for Missing Riverton Woman Three Decades Later

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Kelly Pehringer was 14 when her mom Kathleen disappeared from their Riverton home in 1989.

The last time Kelly saw her, Kathleen was standing at the front door in her bathrobe as Kelly headed off to school. 

Today, more than three decades after Kathleen’s disappearance, Kelly continues to seek answers about what happened that day.

For Kelly, that morning marked a new beginning as she woke up resolved to be a better kid. Her actions in recent months had landed Kelly in a group home and she was very happy to once again be home with her mom. 

She’d been acting like a brat, she realized, and had resolved to do better beginning with not fighting Kathleen about going to school.  

They parted on a pleasant note that morning, and after school, Kelly came home with a couple buddies. Oddly, her mom was gone and hadn’t left a note. 

Odder still was the fact that her mother’s normally overflowing ashtray on the coffee table in the living room had been cleaned and was empty — except for two cigarette butts. One she recognized as her mother’s while the other she identified as belonging to her mom’s new friend Donald Pack, based on the way he always “squinched” the filter down to a tiny nub.

Admittedly, Kelly was not a fan of Pack. In fact, he creeped her out ever since he started coming over to see her mother, ostensibly with the excuse of buying her computer.

He was a friend of Kathleen’s ex-boyfriend and began hanging out after the two broke up.

The afternoon that Kathleen disappeared, Pack stopped by looking for Kelly’s mother. He said he’d been over that morning, too, and she wasn’t home then either. He asked if he could come in and use their telephone. 

Kelly reluctantly let him in and watched while he quickly dialed a number and waited a few seconds before hanging up without leaving a message. 

That struck Kelly odd at the time because their phone was “old and crappy” and some of the digits stuck when you tried to press them.

For this reason, it was nearly impossible to make a quick call. And why had he just hung up without saying anything, she wondered?

He left after using the phone. Kelly then went over to a friend’s, leaving her mom a note.

When she came home later that night for dinner, the note was still there and there was no sign of her mother. When Kathleen still hadn’t returned, Kelly called a friend whose mother came and got her, then they called her grandmother who also had not seen Kathleen.

Then they called the police. 

When questioned, Kelly shared her suspicions about Pack having something to do with her mother’s disappearance. It’s not clear from the police report obtained from the Riverton Police Department whether Pack or anyone else was ever questioned in Kathleen’s disappearance.

All that’s on file is a sparsely written report with basic details shared by Kelly about that morning.

Kathleen had not indicated that she had plans of going anywhere, no clothing was taken and her car was still parked in its normal spot behind the house.

According to RPD Captain Wesley Romero, this is the only document still on file from the 32-year-old case. Any detectives who may have worked the case have long since retired and no active members of the staff have any knowledge of Kathleen’s disappearance.

Kelly doesn’t know if Riverton police ever interviewed Pack. She can’t remember much from that time although she recalls she asked the police to contact her brother Frankie, who was in prison, to inform him that their mother was gone. Later, she learned Frankie was told about his mother’s disappearance by a friend.  

What she does remember vividly, however, is the way her entire life was turned upside down.

With her mother gone, Kelly became a ward of the state and was put into foster care after deciding not to go live with her grandparents — who she did not get along with — or her father, who had remarried and started a new family.

Instead, she cycled in and out of foster homes, one worse than the next as she struggled in the wake of her mom’s disappearance. As a senior, she was placed in a girls group home in Lander, where she was able to graduate from high school. Had it not been for that last placement, she’s certain that she never would have made it through school.

“Those four years were living hell,” Kelly said last week from her home in Sheridan, where she now lives with her father as they two continue working to repair their relationship. 

Now in her late 40s, Kelly is sober after years of alcohol and drug abuse. Though she’s attempting to get her life together, the emotional scars continue to haunt her as she struggles with a myriad of psychological issues.

Over the years, she’s turned to a mediums and empaths for insights into what might have happened to her mom. The closest she came was a medium who told her that Kathleen loved her and was proud of her but wanted Kelly to stop looking for her.

Her mother was smiling at her daughter from the other side, the medium told her, which Kelly believes is her mother’s attempt to keep Kelly from knowing the details of what actually happened to her.

Over the years, the Riverton Police Department handed off the case to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, where it remains open. A request to see the case file report was denied by the agency, according to Ronnie Jones, DCI Region 2 operations commander, who said the agency does not comment on open cases.

All Kelly has to go on is what she can remember, including a visit from two female detectives who found her in a treatment facility around 2006, asking to take a sample of her DNA.

They’d apparently searched a property outside of Riverton that could be linked to Pack and had searched the grounds with cadaver dogs. The dogs had repeatedly returned to an area where they’d found a plastic bag buried underground that were testing for Pack and Kathleen’s DNA.

In the end, the bag was too old to recover any DNA, Kelly said.

However, it appears that Pack had been on DCI’s radar, according to a Feb. 2, 2018 article in Jackson Hole News & Guide. As DCI agents searched for evidence in a locker at the Jackson Police Department, they recovered underwear belonging to a rape victim dating back to the late 1970s that tested positive for Pack’s DNA. 

His DNA was by then on file from a prior arrest and prison sentence for a rape in 1976 in Sublette County that led to his imprisonment for an unknown period of time before he was released in the mid-1980s, approximately two years before he met Kathleen.

Kelly sat with the two rape victims at Pack’s trial in Jackson in 2018, where he was sentenced to eight to 12 years in prison. Pack reportedly confessed to the rapes and apologized to the victims during his trial, saying he’d committed them for the thrill, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, but he denied having anything to do with Kathleen’s disappearance.  

Attending Pack’s trial with the two other victims had been empowering for her, Kelly said.

It was the closest she’s come to feeling like one day her mom’s body will be found and there will be justice. 

Kathleen is one of 51 Wyoming residents listed on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS). 

Anyone with information about the case or Kathleen’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Wyoming DCI at (307) 777-7181.

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Search Continues For Missing Casper Man

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By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Law enforcement officials are looking for a Casper man who has been missing for almost a month and was last seen at a convenience store in Denver.

His family insists it’s not like Ryan Schroeder to stay away from home this long without checking in with his mom and young daughter. 

The 36-year-year old Schroeder was last seen on June 24 when his friend dropped him off at a convenience store in Denver and the only tip so far to emerge is a possible sighting of him in Fort Collins, Colorado, which has not yet been substantiated. 

The fact that he isn’t answering his family’s phone calls or Facebook messages is of great concern to his cousin Sheri Schroeder, who reiterated that this behavior is far out of line for the man who has never been gone for so long and who always checks in with his family. 

She has a message for Schroeder: His family loves him and so many people are out there right now looking for him. “I don’t think he knows how many people care about him or how much he is loved,” she told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. 

Schroeder’s family reported him missing to the Casper Police Department on July 8, according to Rebekah Ladd, public information officer with the department. 

“Since then, officers have interviewed the individual who reported him missing as well as multiple individuals who had been physically with Schroeder recently,” she said. 

The department has also sent queries to law enforcement agencies nationally seeking any possible contacts with Schroeder. No such contacts have been reported.

“The (Casper) detective continues to actively investigate this case and conduct inquiries as to the location of Schroeder,” Ladd said.

Schroeder’s case has also been taken up by private investigator Amanda Waldron of “We Help the Missing,” a nonprofit organization founded in Utah with volunteers all over the country.

Schroeder is described as 5 feet, 10 inches tall, weighing 190 to 200 pounds with brown thinning hair, a short beard and blue eyes. He also has multiple tattoos on his left arm including an American flag, a pistol and math equations as well as a green skull and numbers on his left hand and fingers and a cross and angel wings on his right arm. 

Schroeder typically wears a T-shirt, khaki shorts, tennis shoes, and a baseball cap. 

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Casper Police Department at (307) 235-8278 or private investigator Amanda Waldron (307) 235-8278.

Tips can also be submitted to the We Help the Missing tip line at (866) 660-4025.

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Rescue Teams Expand Search For Missing Montana Hiker

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming and Montana search and rescue teams have expanded their search areas in their attempts to find hiker Tatum Morrell, who disappeared after going hiking in the Beartooth Mountains last week.

According to Red Lodge, Montana, Fire Rescue, search teams still haven’t found sign of the missing 23-year-old, but rescuers have expanded the search area to include areas adjacent to original 15 square-mile area. This expansion was done in case Morrell became disoriented or had to retreat from the high altitude routes due to bad weather.

Morrell planned to hike five peaks in the mountains last week. She camped at Shadow Lake in Montana on July 1 and contacted her mother via a satellite communicator that evening.

A National Guard helicopter was used Thursday night to take high-resolution images of the area for more detailed analysis and to help direct ground searchers.

Officials have determined that although Morrell wasn’t due to be back from her hiking trip until July 5, she left her camp on July 2 to summit a 12,000-foot peak and never returned.

Currently, Montana’s Red Lodge Fire Rescue, Carbon County Sheriff’s Office, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, Gallatin County and Big Horn County search and rescue and rescue teams are looking for the young woman, assisted by the Park County, Wyoming, search and rescue team, the U.S. Forest Service, three dog teams and three helicopters.

Morrell is an engineering graduate student at Montana State University-Bozeman and is originally from Idaho. This was her first trip to the Beartooths, according to Red Lodge Fire Rescue officials.

She is an experienced hiker who recently completed a similar trip in Gallatin County, climbing five peaks in five days.

Anyone with information on Morrell’s disappearance can call 406-446-1234, the Carbon County, Montana Sheriff’s Office.

Morrell is not the only hiker to be reported missing in the region recently. Last month, an Irish man disappeared while hiking in Grand Teton National Park.

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Wyoming, Montana Search and Rescue Teams Looking For Missing Hiker In Beartooth Mountains

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Search and rescue teams from both Wyoming and Montana were searching southern Montana on Tuesday for a woman who disappeared while hiking in the Beartooth Mountain area last week.

Tatum Morell, 23, planned to hike five peaks in the mountains last week. She camped at Shadow Lake in Montana on July 1 and contacted her mother via a satellite communicator that evening.

It is believed she left her tent on Friday. She has not been seen since, according to Red Lodge Fire Rescue officials.

Currently, Montana’s Red Lodge Fire Rescue, Carbon County Sheriff’s Office, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, Gallatin County and Big Horn County search and rescue and rescue teams are looking for the young woman, assisted by the Park County, Wyoming, search and rescue team, the U.S. Forest Service, three dog teams and three helicopters.

On Wednesday, ground teams planned to search the routes Morrell may have taken to climb the peaks in the area, with a focus on Sundance, Bowback, Castle and Whitetail mountains. These routes are high elevation and relatively difficult, with car-sized boulders and snowfall being possible elements in the way.

The dog teams will search around Morrell’s camp.

Helicopter crews from the National Guard and Two Bear Air searched the area Sunday night though Tuesday evening, while ground crews searched the area around her camp and the surrounding lakes.

Morrell is an engineering graduate student at Montana State University-Bozeman and is originally from Idaho. This was her first trip to the Beartooths, according to Red Lodge Fire Rescue officials.

She is an experienced hiker who recently completed a similar trip in Gallatin County, climbing five peaks in five days.

Anyone with information on Morrell’s disappearance can call 406-446-1234, the Carbon County, Montana Sheriff’s Office.

Morrell is not the only hiker to go missing in the region recently. Last month, an Irish man went missing in Grand Teton National Park and still hasn’t been found.

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Casper Woman Petitions Governor to Create Statewide Missing Person Database

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Up until a couple years ago, Desirée Tinoco had never given much thought to missing people or what happens when a person runs away. The subject had never impacted her personally until a story caught her eye about a local Casper guy who had gone missing followed by another report of a man visiting from Washington who was last spotted in Big Horn County. 

“How does that even happen?” Tinoco said. “How do people just disappear?”

It struck a nerve with the Casper woman who began to do some research. It turned out there were many more. Some of the cases might be newsworthy enough to warrant a story, but other times there were just desperate pleas from family members on social media or faces on posters hanging on windows and bulletin boards.

More research into the subject revealed that Wyoming does not have a statewide missing person database nor did there seem to be a unified resource for reporting such cases and sharing them publicly.

She also noticed that while missing women and children seemed to get a lot of attention, others – like older adults and men with criminal pasts or histories of substance abuse didn’t seem to generate the same urgency. 

Still, as she told Cowboy State Daily, somebody out there is worried and looking for them.

“This is someone’s son, father or brother,” she said. “They don’t have a voice, so we have to give them one.”

In the absence of a resource, Tinoco decided to create one. 

In July 2019, she launched the Missing People of Wyoming Facebook page to create a public forum for reports of missing persons and to provide updates and information.

Within weeks of launching, the page took off, with up to five reports of missing people being added each week. In many cases, the missing returned home but not always. 

As of June 15, the page had more than 10,000 subscribers and for Tinoco has become nearly a full-time job.

If you conduct a Google search on “missing people in Wyoming,” Tinoco’s Facebook page is usually at the top of the list. And though many people have told her that she should be flattered by its success and popularity, the notion quite frankly terrifies her.

The idea that she’s somehow become the go-to source for missing people in her mind suggests both a need for the resource as well as someone qualified who can run it. As she points out, she doesn’t have the expertise or experience in the field to confidently help families or provide information.

Last winter, she approached the Casper City Council to ask for their help in advocating for a statewide missing person database that’s overseen by a law enforcement agency, preferably the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI).

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said. “I’m definitely out of my league.”

Along with speaking to city council, she’s contacted several legislators and a computer administrator at DCI – all of whom were receptive to the idea – and she’s petitioning Gov. Mark Gordon for help in launching a statewide resource. Wyoming is one of roughly a dozen states in the country that do not have a unified statewide database unlike other states including South Dakota, Montana and Colorado.

As Tinoco pointed out, Wyoming has a problem when it comes to missing people. In fact, the Cowboy State was ranked the seventh state for missing people, with 7.8 missing people for every 100,000 residents, according to a 2019 Vivint Source survey.

Alaska was much worse, topping the chart with 41.8 missing people per every 100,000, followed by Arizona at 13 and Oregon in third with 10.4. 

Nationally, more than 600,000 individuals go missing in the U.S. each year, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs), with an estimated 4,400 unidentified bodies recovered annually. Tens of thousands of those missing people remain gone for more than a year, at which point many agencies consider their disappearances “cold cases.”

According to that same data, of the missing, approximately 60% are male and 40% female with an average age of 34 at the time of their disappearance. 

In Wyoming, NamUs lists 49 active missing person cases in the past roughly 90 years. Of those, 30 are men and 19 women. 

The latest person to go missing is Rupert Brown, a 42-year-old Native American man from Riverton, who was last seen on December 31, 2020. The oldest case to date is Olga Mauger who went missing from Dubois in September 1934 when she was 21. 

In between there are a host of others ranging in ages and from multiple counties.

With the exception of the NamUs database and Tinoco’s Facebook page, the only other missing person database is the relatively limited and hard-to-access missing person database overseen by DCI, with the most recent entry dating back to 2018.

“It’s not up-to-date in terms of current cases,” Tinoco said.

She’s hoping that her petition will prompt the governor and lawmakers of the necessity of creating a statewide database. As of Wednesday, Tinoco’s petition has garnered over 20,000 signatures with the governor’s office voicing their support.

In an email to Tinoco on June 15 in response, Emily Soli, special counsel senior policy advisor for tribal affairs for Gordon’s office, noted that although there is no centralized public database of missing persons cases that are under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement, DCI does in fact maintain an internal database of all missing persons across the state that is not accessible to the public.

“That database is not published because it contains sensitive information and because it is not updated in real-time (i.e. outside of ordinary work hours),” Soli wrote. “Its purpose for DCI is to ensure that the State reports to the appropriate federal clearinghouse any missing persons cases which remain unresolved after 60 days.”

After this point, those names are then listed in the federal NamUs database, she further explained.

Creating and maintaining a statewide, real-time missing person’s database as Tinoco suggests, Soli said, would require legislation and an appropriation that the governor would support.

“The Governor would certainly consider any bill on the issue,” she said, noting his creation of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force, which recently published the first statewide report in the country. “The Governor has made missing persons a priority and would welcome legislative support for those efforts.”

Tinoco, who is Native American and has lived on two reservations, acknowledged the importance of that initiative.

“It’s a huge effort,” Tinoco said, “and I don’t want to take away from it.”

Still, she thinks a centralized database would go a long way in helping combat the missing person problem in general. Wyoming is years behind the curve in her estimation.

“Other states are lacking databases,” she said, “but Wyoming is definitely the worse. This is one case where our propensity for small government definitely works against us.”

A second issue that compounds the problem, according to Tinoco, is that every law enforcement agency – including tribal police – has its own protocols for handling missing person cases and runaways. 

There’s also a lot of misinformation out there, she noted, when it comes to how and when to report runaways or missing persons. For example, it is widely believed that a person has to be missing for 48 hours before being reported as missing, however, that is not the case for the majority of local law enforcement agencies. 

The effort definitely poses challenges, according to former Laramie County law enforcement officer and retired private investigator Dave Wolfskill, who has been involved in many local missing person cases.

“A major challenge is a lack of communication and similar procedures between law enforcement agencies,” he said. “I think a central agency (DCI, maybe) should get all missing notifications from the police agencies and that someone at that central agency should be responsible to follow up on proper procedure.”

Casper private investigator Amanda Waldron, who also heads up the middle school expulsion program for Natrona County, agrees that a unified central database accessible to multiple agencies would go a long way in also helping to combat the rising number of missing people and teenage runaways.

“We are seeing an increase of mental health concerns here in Casper,” she said, “especially among our teen population, and it’s a challenge to collaborate with law enforcement as they don’t respond to runaway cases in a very effective of efficient manner.”

She advocates for an agency or group which would focus on this specific demographic. She also thinks the state could do a far better job providing resources for those in crisis, including a hotline as well as hanging posters and flyers in bathrooms and other public spaces to provide resources for vulnerable youth and victims of human trafficking.

In the meantime, Tinoco is going to keep lobbying for the database and hopes her petition continues to gain steam, repeating the mantra that makes her passionate about the cause.

“The missing don’t have a voice,” she said, “so we need to speak for them.” 

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