The Year in KTOO News: Looking for Juneau’s missing

Spirit Lodge Singers use a healing drum to offer songs and prayer for the safety of Geraldine Nelson as the search for her continues around Lemon Creek on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO).
Spirit Lodge Singers use a healing drum to offer songs and prayer for the safety of Geraldine Nelson as the search for her continues around Lemon Creek on Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO).

Looking back on the local issues we covered this year, a disturbing trend emerged. We reported on several members of our community who went missing. While it’s not clear that more people went missing in Juneau in 2021 than in other years, at KTOO we definitely gave the topic our attention. Instead of waiting for police reports about missing persons, we started turning to social media where family members were organizing searches for loved ones who stayed away from home too long.

In May, an elder named Geraldine Nelson went missing in Lemon Creek. After an extensive search, largely coordinated by volunteers, Nelson’s body was found. Her story forced KTOO and the community at large to scrutinize the Silver Alert system designed to help find vulnerable adults who go missing. 

In August, Joe Clayton was visiting family in Juneau from Oregon and didn’t return from a hike. Some of his belongings were later found in a wooded area near the University of Alaska Southeast and his family offered a $5,000 reward for information about him. In October, human remains were found near the ferry terminal that Juneau police confirmed were Clayton’s

Overlapping with Joe Clayton’s disappearance was the search for Doug Farnsworth, who was last seen driving a truck that was found abandoned near the Perseverance Trailhead. An extensive search involving dogs and a Coast Guard helicopter were unsuccessful. Farnsworth’s sister told KTOO in October that law enforcement officials told her that “they don’t look for people that don’t want to be found.” A hiker with a dog found Farnsworth’s remains in November, not far off the popular Flume Trail.

Barbara Charles shares some of her memories at a vigil for her grandson, Doug Farnsworth, on Oct. 27, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. Farnsworth disappeared in late September. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Clifford White has been missing since October. His family said he wasn’t the same after his mom died of COVID-19 late last year. He’s a local MMA fighter. People describe him as being in good shape. He’s 29 years old and Alaska Native. He has short black hair and his father says he has a goatee and mustache right now. He’s about 5 feet 11 inches tall and has tattoos.

And just this month, authorities identified human remains found two years ago as James Christopher Cole, who had been missing since 2017 when a skiff he was riding in capsized near Aurora Harbor. Three people and a dog made it safely to shore but Cole and another man, Sheridan Scott Stringer were lost.

KTOO is looking back at 2021 through the stories that had the widest and strongest impact on the community. Read about the pandemic’s second year in Juneau.

Jennifer Pemberton

Managing Editor, KTOO

I bring stories from the community into the KTOO newsroom so that all of our reporting matters. I want to hear my community’s struggles and its wins reflected in our coverage. Does our reporting reflect your experience in Juneau?

Like what you just read? KTOO news stories are member supported. Support your community news source today. Donate to KTOO.

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