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May 25, 2018

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One Man’s View:

Living through a parent’s worst fear


Tim O’Callaghan

More One Man's View

For more of Tim O'Callaghan's column, see

Parents: Have you ever considered what steps to take if your child was ever missing?

Young people: Have you ever considered the immeasurable pain and worry your parents experience when they don’t know where you are?

Two weeks ago, my bride and I were preparing for an overnight trip to Arizona to take care of some business when I received a text from Carli, our son Sean’s girlfriend. It read, “Hey Mr. O, have you heard from Sean today?”

It was curious, because that is what I usually text her when I’m unable to reach our adventurous, 21-year-old college student.

I said to my bride, “This is a strange text message from Carli. Maybe you should call her.” As I was driving, Donna was calling to find out what’s up.

When she answered the phone, Carli said she was concerned because Sean and his buddy had not returned from a fishing trip to Squaw Creek near Lake Tahoe early that morning. She had expected him around 3 a.m.

Normally, I would have suggested everyone keep calm and give it some time. However, there was a severe storm with high winds and snow the night before. I have been stuck in the snow on an occasion or two. It was certainly possible he may have gotten stuck in the snow as well, I thought.

Our trip would have to wait so we headed home.

First, we needed to confirm he wasn’t in his Reno apartment sleeping off a late night of fishing. We enlisted Pearl Miller, our longtime family friend and my father’s executive assistant when he was governor.

She gladly offered to rouse him out of bed — as she had done to me a few times when I was much younger.

About 20 minutes had passed when she called confirming he and his car were not there. She left a note for him or one of his roommates to call us when they found the note on the door.

A gnawing fear

Our level of concern was growing and amplified by Pearl’s concern about the high winds and snow the night before.

The normal rule is to wait 24 hours before calling out the troops, but as my bride looked across the kitchen table at me with a look of anguish that only a mother fearing for the safety of her child can give, I began to fear the worst had happened.

Parental fear is a force that can crush the strongest of men. I have witnessed it a few times growing up in the eyes of my own mother and father. I never really understood it until now. It’s primeval in nature.

Hunting for answers

My first instinct was to catch a flight to Reno and begin a search, but my better senses kicked in, allowing me to get a grip on the situation. We pulled out the laptop after putting together a strategy that included checking with law enforcement agencies in the area and checking GoogleEarth to get a good idea of what the area looked like.

I called the California Highway Patrol and was referred to the Truckee-area command, where I spoke to a non-emergency dispatcher. He asked me all the details including Sean’s name, date of birth, hair color, weight, Social Security number, car info and license plate number.

Amazingly, the bride had pulled all the details together from her trusty filing cabinet ready to give to whoever needed it.

Lesson one: Parents, keep an updated list of information on your kids, including car license plates.

The very helpful dispatcher said, “You realize he is 21. This is common with kids his age.”

I answered, “Yes, I do, but, there are circumstances here.”

He said, “The good news is we haven’t had any contact with him in the last 24 hours.”

Then I contacted the Placer County Sheriff’s Department with the same results: no contact in the past 24 hours. The helpful female dispatcher asked me for my number, saying she would call me back if she heard anything new.I kept wondering: Why would he head up to that area in the wind and snow to go fishing? What possessed him to do something so foolish?

The worst-case scenario was setting in my heart when the phone rang. It was Carli’s mom, Suzy Portz, asking if there was anything she could do. I was choked up and told her I didn’t think so. She suggested we call Sean’s cell company to see if it could trace or get a location on his phone. She offered to do it for us.

In the meantime I was googling the heck out of “Squaw Creek” when I read the link “Squaw Creek Reservoir, Washoe County, Nevada.” Not a minute later, Carli called with the same information.

Lesson two: Kids, always tell someone where you’re going. Write it down, be exact and tell them when you will be back.

While we were concentrating on the California side of the high Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sean and his fishing buddy were most likely in a remote area near the Black Rock Desert in Washoe County, Nevada.

Carli’s mom, Suzy, got in touch with a relative in Reno who has contacts in law enforcement in Washoe County to see if they could assist or if they had contact with the boys in the past 24 hours.

About two hours after we contacted the Placer County Sheriff’s office, a deputy called to say he had thoroughly searched the area of Squaw Creek, near Truckee, Calif., with no sign of the vehicle or the boys. He was sure they weren’t in his jurisdiction. I confirmed with him that we were now searching Washoe County.

Good news

After about four hours of worry, a Washoe County deputy sheriff from Gerlach called to tell us he had found the boys at Squaw Creek Reservoir in Washoe County.

“I thought you should know I located Sean,” he said. “He is a bit of a hero up here today. He pulled a man out of the cold water, probably saving his life.”

He also told me Sean was confused why anyone would be looking for him this early in the day, because he wasn’t due back until 3 p.m.

Remember lesson two?

We went back through our list of people and agencies we had contacted to let them know we had located him.

Even though we were relieved, we were left drained and numb by this experience. Sean called us to get details of all the fuss before he called Carli — I think he was gauging just how much trouble he was in with her.

He gave us the details how he assisted a 72-year-old man who fell into the frigid water after the man capsized his boat reaching for a dropped oar.

Our advice to Sean was to be specific with time of day, because there is a big difference between 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. when someone is expecting your return. Then as far as gauging Carli, he would have to make that call on his own.

Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the Home News, can be reached at 990-2656 or [email protected] He writes a regular blog at

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