Finding Lucius 

Inside the search for a missing friend

Page 5 of 5

Detection in Haste

As the search for Robbi wore on well into a week after his disappearance, emotions ran high among his friends and family.

According to Boise County Sheriff Roeber, searches conducted by family members create a double-edged sword.

"We never want to discourage the family," he said. "It is an extremely daunting emotion that they're going through. But some of the things we want to do is sometimes very frustrating to others looking at it."

He explained that thoroughly vetting leads and investigating sightings takes time--time the family of the missing person often feels isn't there.

Gillis said that started to happen in the search efforts up north, in Challis.

"Sometimes people can become emotionally charged and want to base their search off of nothing but hasty techniques. It's hard to convince them to slow down sometimes and put one foot in front of the other instead of taking a big stride and skipping over a large section of terrain," he said during the search. "Picture the next 20 feet in front of me right now. If I get up and walk it, it's going to take me 10 seconds to go that far. If I get up and run it, it's going to take me five seconds. Cool, I can cover a lot of ground really quick, but my probability of detection is super low. If I slow that pace down and take 10 seconds to go that far, my probability of detection jumps double. I believe taking those small steps is crucial to finding Lucius."

Another danger search parties can fall into is forming theories about what happened to the missing person.

Roeber said he is cautious never to form theories of where a missing person ended up, because then he would risk ignoring clues that don't support his theory. Both Gillis and Roeber agreed all search efforts played a role in locating Robbi. The sheriff said the family put in more hours looking for Robbi than anyone.

Professional search and rescue teams usually wind up their searches once they feel like they've scrubbed the area clean and no more leads come in. For the family of a missing person, they don't stop until they've run everything dry.

The worry started to mount for Krista Long, at Cascade Raft and Kayak--not only for Robbi, but for her other employees out in the wilderness trying to find him.

"We had some of our staff run off in the middle of the night to go up there," she said at the time. "We have at least 20 or 30 people up there who are very close to us who we care about, driving on dirt roads with no cell service.The staff members who have come down, you can tell they've been up all night. It's hard to watch. This is not a group that gives up. This is a group that will go until there are answers."

After sending his crews to bed and figuring out his plan for the next day, Gillis headed to a bar down the street, one of the only open signs in the town with a population under 70. Over a whiskey and Coke, he wracked his brain for where Robbi could be.

"I haven't slept from the time I woke up at 8 a.m. on Monday," he told Boise Weekly before heading to his hotel room, shared with four other volunteers. "I haven't slept since Sunday night. I feel like I know him now. He seems like a very smart young man. I know where he was on Aug. 19. That is ground zero. The question is flowing through my head every single time I get new information: Where the fuck is he?"

There He Is

Robbi's friends paddle the Payette River in his honor on Aug. 30. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Robbi's friends paddle the Payette River in his honor on Aug. 30.

Two days after sharing a drink with BW, Gillis boarded that helicopter with the pilot--Dave Everson, whose friendship with Robbi went back to California. They took off at 1:15 p.m. It was Gillis' last day searching for Robbi before other obligations took him away from the area.

They looked again at areas already searched on the ground and with fixed-wing airplanes, but the helicopter gave them the ability to slow it down, to hover--to take those "small steps."

Around 6:30 p.m., they made one last loop up to Stanley from Garden Valley, where they spotted Robbi's Subaru down a 60-foot embankment.

This stretch of road wasn't curvy like the rest. It was flat and straight, only five miles from Stanley--near the turn off for Stanley Lake. On this road, a visitor can see the Sawtooth Mountains towering to the west and old wooden fencing zig-zagging to the east.

Robbi's vehicle had drifted into the northbound lane, and ended up off the road.

"He probably didn't hit the brakes until he was in the air," said Nienstedt, one of the searchers. The car hit a few large pine trees before coming to rest, upright, with the kayaks nearby--in a spot that every search volunteer had traveled past countless times.

"It was plain," Gillis said. "It was sitting right there."

How it ended up there, the Idaho State Police are still investigating. But suddenly, the biggest question mark vanished.

"I felt like the majority of the time, I had a feeling that I've got to be able to find him," Gillis said. "I felt so strongly about the area I had narrowed down in my head."

When the news sunk in among the other search volunteers, Nienstedt said this was the most likely scenario. He figured the volunteers probably drove at least 2,000 miles of dirt roads in Idaho's backcountry, looking for an accident that could have happened to any of them right there.

"It's the only thing that made sense," Nienstedt said.

It could have happened to anyone, but, it happened to Lucius Robbi.

In his honor, the University of Montana held a moment of silence on campus at noon Friday, Aug. 29. A professor offered her condolences on the Finding Lucius Facebook page.

On the evening of Saturday, Aug. 30, more than a dozen of his friends took to their kayaks and paddled down the North Fork and the Main Payette River in his name. The group wasn't deterred by the thunder and lightning overhead, or the pouring rain.

A close friend of his, John Webster, refused to complain about the rain or the darkness falling on the group. "This float isn't for us," he said.

He looked up in the rain.

"Lucius is just jealous he can't paddle with us," he added.

There's a memorial for him now, off of Highway 21. It's a knobby treetrunk with wildflowers tucked inside and a pair of hiking shoes. Sprinkled over the memorial, is water from the Payette.
Friends built a memorial for Robbi off Highway 21. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Friends built a memorial for Robbi off Highway 21.
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