A friend of an Irishman missing in a US national park says the experience has been “beyond painful for everyone involved” as he urged the public to continue sharing appeals for information online.
ian McLaughlin (27) was last seen in Grand Teton park, Wyoming, on June 8. Friends and family have been devastated by his disappearance and are desperately trying to find him before the winter sets in.
Max Newman, friends with Cian since they were 13, said Cian had always wanted to move to America and was enjoying his time in Jackson.
“He was in his element out there and had been living there for a year, working on a ski resort as a snowboard instructor,” Mr Newman told Independent.ie.
“He was super-fit and really outdoorsy and he knew the trails in Grand Teton quite well, as he was always up there. He was having a good summer and was taking it all in his stride.
“He was always making travel plans and had intended to go to New York for a weekend later in June.”
Mr Newman flew to Wyoming to take part in the searches with friends and family when Cian was initially reported missing.
“It was overwhelming at first. There were ordinance maps, choppers, drones and the search was very full-on for the first 10 days.
“Grand Teton is massive and there are so many trails, but the park rangers were amazing. The scenery is very dramatic and the reason we were there really magnified the emotional side of things.”
Searches were narrowed down after a climbing guide reported seeing a solo hiker, who matched Cian’s description, on the Garnet Canyon Trail. His car was also found parked near Lupine Meadows.
Mr Newman said searchers are now focusing on the Delta Lake area and are appealing for anyone who was hiking there in the week Cian disappeared to send in pictures.
“We’ve centralised the area of Delta Lake, which is in the upper part of Teton,” he said.
“We’re reaching out to people who were there and maybe didn’t see Cian, but have photos to show what Delta Lake was like at the time, to see how much ice was on the lake, as it’s information that will help with the searches.
“The park rangers covered all the lakes but I think they plan to go up again. It’s an unofficial trail that goes up to Delta Lake and it’s quite rough terrain, there’s a lot going on with boulders and the area is difficult to navigate.”
With winter fast approaching and the weather rapidly changing, Cian’s family say they have a “narrow window” left to bring him home.
“When the one-month mark hit, that was painful,” Mr Newman said. “Slowly you realise the situation is changing and it’s more so a recovery mission now. We’re all at different stages of accepting our reality. It’s still something I’m having difficulty coming to terms with.”
Cian, who grew up in south Dublin and attend Newpark Comprehensive secondary school in Blackrock, was an only child and had dual Irish-American citizenship.
He studied at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) for a year, but his plan was always to move Stateside.
“He was in DIT for a hot minute,” Mr Newman laughed.
“He definitely found his place in Jackson. He was just so full of life, he had a real lust for life.
“Anyone who knows Cian, loves Cian. He has a unique and genuine energy about him and is somewhat of a local legend. It’s hard to comprehend what has happened.”
Mr Newman said the Gabby Petito case had raised hopes that Cian would be found after her tragic death led to another hiker coming forward with vital information on another man missing in Grand Teton.
Robert Lowery, from Houston, Texas, was reported missing in August. Officials said the attention on Ms Petito’s case “helped bring light” to his disappearance because it led to tipsters coming forward with information about sightings on a popular trail.
His remains were subsequently found in Teton Pass last month, an area 27km from where Ms Petito was discovered.
There was renewed hope her case would also lead to information on Cian, but so far nobody has come forward.
“There was so much attention from the online community in the past couple of months with the Gabby Petito case and we wanted to try and tap into that by making another appeal,” Mr Newman said.
“On behalf of the friends and family, we want to thank everyone, both Stateside and here, who helped with the GoFundMe. We are eternally grateful. The inner circles haven’t been that vocal but we are still in a time of shock.
“We have so much gratitude to everyone who has helped and it means a lot to his mother Gráinne.
“We want people to keep sharing anything you see and hopefully something good comes from it.”
Cian was wearing a red Apple Watch, white T-shirt, a pair of shorts, wire-rim sunglasses and a distinctive silver necklace on the day he went missing.
He has a dice tattoo on his right forearm, a vase tattoo on the back of his right arm and a large coloured tattoo on his left forearm.
Park officials said he did not have a backpack and was travelling lightly. The last ping from his mobile phone was at 3.30pm on June 8.
“We continue to ask the public for any information they may be able to provide,” a Grand Teton spokesperson said.
It comes as Cian’s mother said she wants to bring her son’s body home.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Mr McLaughlin’s mother Gráinne said she has accepted that the search effort is now recovery mission and has appealed for the public’s assistance in locating her son.
Ms McLaughlin said her son was an experienced hiker and they suspect he went “off trail”.
“He was well versed in the mountains. He grew up hiking with me and my mum and dad and my bother… so, well versed with equipment [and] gear. We are assured it was a day hike [and] that he possibly went off trail,” she said.
“That time of year, although it’s June it’s spring (in Wyoming) so the weather was really, really warm and the melt off from the snow – so, all of the waterfalls were gushing. There would have been melt under the ice, so it’s tricky. It really is a tricky time of year.
“My hope is, it’s not a rescue it’s a recovery, but I’d like to bring him home. I know he’s up there somewhere.”
Ms McLaughlin recalled the moment when she accepted that her son would not be found alive and described it as being full of grief.
She arrived in Wyoming on June 17 and said she was informed by local officials two days later that “it was a recovery” operation.
Speaking on the same programme, Cian’s uncle, Colm O’Higgins, said his nephew was an extremely outgoing person and appealed for anyone who may have spoken to him around that time to come forward
Mr O’Higgins added that the family is also appealing for anyone with photos or camera footage recorded in the park at that time to look closely for signs of Mr McLaughlin.
“Lots of people who visit here take photographs. Our appeal is for anybody who was in the park in June – specifically on June 8 and 9 – have a look at your photographs: there may be somebody in the background,” he said.
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