Three months after Damian McManus, 51, and his 18-year-old son, Evan, disappeared on a Colorado mountain, their family is bringing them home to Minnesota.
On Friday, authorities confirmed that the remains of the missing St. Louis Park father and son were found Thursday in the Mount Evans area by a Lakeville friend and other volunteers.
After 105 agonizing days, the news brought bittersweet closure for family and friends who have done dozens of difficult searches through the vast Colorado wilderness. Nevertheless, what exactly happened to the Minnesota father and son on that snowy April day may never be known.
On Thursday at 11:30 a.m., mountaineers, volunteers, relatives and friends of "Team McManus" found Evan on a tree-covered mountainside near Vance Creek, a couple of miles from the lot where the McManus' SUV was parked April 2 near Echo Lake, a popular spot for day hikes.
The skeletal remains were found in "extremely harsh" terrain located about a half-mile from a trail and near a steep drop-off, Clear Creek County Sheriff's Office Capt. Bruce Snelling said Friday.
Alpine Rescue and Rocky Mountain Rescue — a group of highly trained, volunteer-rescue mountaineers — found Damian about 400 yards away. Both groups had spent thousands of hours searching.
"Our best educated guess is they succumbed to the weather," Snelling said, adding that the pair may have gotten off the trail to cut across the area during a snowstorm to get to their car, but got caught in snow. "They were in very harsh conditions."
There were no obvious injuries, he said, and the Clear Creek County Coroner's Office will list the cause of death as "accidental." Some of their gear was found nearby. But there were few other clues to what happened. "We'll absolutely never know," Snelling said.
In a statement Friday, Damian's wife, Katherine McManus, and Evan's twin sister, Lauren, thanked officials, volunteers and friends for the support.
"Their unwavering focus, strength and positivity have kept the search active," the family said in a statement, "and gave hope that Damian and Evan would be brought home."
Unofficial search paid off
Damian and Evan had gone to Colorado on a spur-of-the-moment spring-break trip while Katherine and Lauren went to Mexico.
On April 2, Evan, a St. Louis Park High School senior, sent a message to his girlfriend, saying that he and his father were heading out to climb, but didn't say where. It wasn't until four days later that family members reported them missing after Katherine and Lauren returned and realized that the men's cellphones were dead and that they hadn't returned.
Their vehicle was found in the parking lot at the popular Echo Lake trailhead about two hours west of Denver. Searchers had a rough idea of where to look based on a ping from one of the men's phones.
But the wilderness area makes up about 74,000 acres. The 14,265-foot-tall mountain, often compared to Pikes Peak, is part of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and dominates Denver's metro skyline. It snowed nearly every day for more than a week after they were last heard from, covering their tracks.
Temperatures dipped well below zero every night. And the winds whipped at 20 to 40 miles per hour, hampering searchers using snowshoes, skis, helicopters and dogs.
Officials said that the two couldn't have survived for more than a week, and official searches were called off. But unofficial searches kept on.
"Even though we have been cut in half by snow and by this mountain, we are WHOLE in spirit, love, faith and a lifetime of memories," Katherine McManus said on Facebook in May.
Over the past 50 days, some 250 volunteers from 20 agencies across Colorado searched. And this week, a team of Minnesota firefighters joined in.
Now, the remains will be returned to Minnesota. The family said Friday that no details are available yet on a funeral or a memorial service.
"A very special, heartfelt thank you goes out as well to everyone who has sent their love, support and prayers," the family said in a statement. "It has meant the world to Katherine and Lauren to know that so many people have held them up."
Staff writer Joy Powell contributed to this report.