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August 30, 2015

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Volunteers holding on to hope in search for hiker missing since Jan. 16

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Sam Morris

A group of volunteers decide how to split up during a search for missing outdoorsman and athlete Ron Kirk Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012 in Calico Basin.

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Ronald Kirk

Searching for Ron Kirk

Some of an estimated 150 volunteers assemble in Calico Basin to search for missing outdoorsman and athlete Ron Kirk Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012. Launch slideshow »

When 46-year-old Ronald Kirk set out to hike in Calico Basin at Red Rock Canyon Jan. 16, his friends thought nothing of it.

The UNLV history student and former Marine was no stranger to the basin. As an avid runner he had hiked for long stretches in the canyon dozens of times, often by himself.

That day was no different. Kirk sent a quick text message to friends, saying that he was going hiking.

It was the last time anyone heard from him.

His sister Susan was the first person to notice something was wrong. She always stays in touch with her brother and going a few days without hearing from him would be unusual. It was Sunday, Jan. 22, when she phoned friends in his Hash House Harriers group, part of an international running club, to see if they had seen him.

Something wasn't right.

Within hours, friends headed to the Calico Basin area where they found his red Jeep sitting in the sandy parking lot. Alarmed, they immediately called 911 and the search for Kirk began.

“What happened to Ronald, we really don’t know,” said Danae Cummings, Kirk’s friend and an organizer of a search party Saturday, Jan. 28. “He comes here frequently … this is one of his favorite spots.”

Cummings and more than 150 friends, family and volunteers from across the country — many connected through the running club — gathered early Saturday at the basin to begin an on-foot search of the 16-square-mile radius of rocky terrain they believe he may have traveled.

With more than 500 "likes" on the "Find Ron Kirk" Facebook page, Garnett Kirk said it wasn’t hard finding people willing to donate time and money to finding his older brother.

“Last night we were reminiscing about Ron,” said Garnett Kirk. “He loved pushing limits, he was never happy being normal. That’s how he lived his life – one mile at a time – and that’s what makes the hope stay alive.”

Covered in hiking gear with trekking poles in hand, 18 teams of five, seven or 10 people grouped in the chilly morning weather to map their routes. Whistles around their necks, volunteers took to the red rolling hills in search of clues. Staying on the low-level ground, one group zigzagged the dry, cracked earth looking for any sign of Ronald Kirk, a man friends say is an “adventurous risk-taker.”

Tom Monahan, a Metro search and rescue liaison, said that a few helicopter missions — during the day and at night using infrared technology — have been unable to find any sign of Kirk.

Metro crews had suspended the air search until Kirk’s name was found in a ledger at the top of one of the peaks in the Calico Basin area.

Another helicopter search Friday came up with no results.

Monahan said that, at this point, Metro's involvement in the search is minimal unless volunteers find another clue.

“The biggest variable is time,” said Monahan, who believes it must have been hard for Kirk after 48 hours of facing the range in temperature, a harsh environment and the “unforgiving nature of the canyon.”

Although it’s not uncommon for hikers to go missing at Red Rock Canyon, Monahan said the search effort for Kirk surpasses most.

“It’s an extraordinary turnout,” said Monahan. “It’s a great example of the community picking up when government can’t do all.”

Friends and family are staying hopeful and say they are determined to find Kirk despite the odds.

“Even if he’s only out here in a T-shirt, shorts and a pair of beat-up tennis shoes we’re looking for him,” said Cummings. “We’re going to find him. We’re going to find him.”

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