20 years later, family still holding out hope missing boy will return home

A sign is nailed to a tree in Rocky Point where Derrick Engebretson went missing in 1998. (KTVL/Mike Marut)

Derrick Engebretson went missing 20 years ago on Wednesday.

He, his father Robert and his grandfather Bob all went Christmas tree hunting in Rocky Point. Derrick was supposed to cut down the tree in 1998.

After 20 years of searching, dead end leads and waiting, a memorial still hangs from a tree in the spot Derrick was last seen.

Search and Rescue in Klamath County never found a boy's body in the Rocky Point area.

"You never go into something thinking, 'well, I'm going to be talking about this 20 years from now,' and if you do, it's because it's a success story," Lt. Brian Bryson, Search and Rescue Coordinator, said.

All the clues and evidence in the search for Derrick have been dead ends, including a confession from convicted sex offender Frank Milligan that he later recanted. After it was recanted, the Engebretson parents believed he did not kidnap their son. Derrick's hatchet to cut down the tree was never recovered, and footprints that may have been his were wiped away during a snowstorm that night 20 years ago, followed by plows.

Detectives received tips from as far away as San Francisco and as recently as last year.

"This is probably the largest volume of information we've got on any cold case," Detective Nick Kennedy said.

Derrick's dad and grandfather split up with Derrick bringing along his hatchet to cut down the tree. When Robert and Bob returned, Derrick was missing.

"I said to him, 'Has Derrick come out yet? Has Derrick come out yet?'" Robert remembers. "He's like 'no...' all non-chalantly, and I'm like, 'dad! My son is missing!'"

Even after 20 years, you can still see all the nails and the tacks left in the tree in Klamath County. After all this time, Derrick's mom still has hope that he will one day walk through their front door.

"I want to believe that he's still alive to this day, and until somebody shows me something different, I don't think I'm ever going to give up on him," Lori said.

Lori believes her son was kidnapped after saying the family first found small footprints in the snow leading to the road. Kennedy says KCSO cannot share any theories the investigators have, but Derrick's family is sure he is not on the mountain where he went missing.

Lori sees herself as the emotional rock the Engebretson family needs.

"When Derrick disappeared, I started watching everybody crumble and I couldn't do that," Lori said. "If I crumbled, then that meant everyone was just going to go worse."

Despite the time that has passed, Derrick's parents feel the same as they did that first year without their son.

"Every day we wake up, we relive everything," Lori said.

After Derrick first went missing, Robert went searching for his son every weekend, every day off, whenever he could for two years.

Derrick would now be 28 years old. Lori describes him with a scar on his chin and a scar underneath his nose from a dog bite. Derrick has brown hair and brown eyes.

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