Update on 1 November 2012
Last night, two hikers located my grandfather’s body. It was found at the bottom of a steep incline some 1.5 miles up Neff’s Canyon. His dog, Odin, was also found with him. The official report from the Medical Examiner will take some time to process, but it looks like the initial fall probably claimed both lives.
This news is difficult, but my family is so grateful to have some closure. Thank you again to all the heroes who helped us resolve this difficult situation – especially the detectives, police officers, firefighters, and community volunteers. A “Missing” poster of my grandfather was placed at the head of the trail where his body was found, and without that who knows if he would have been found before the winter snow hits.
Fritz was a kind, peaceful, brave and brilliant man. He will be dearly missed.
On Wednesday, 24 October 2012, my aunt stopped by Grandpa Helland’s home for a weekly visit. Grandpa wasn’t home, so my aunt called to make sure he was okay. He answered the phone call and said that he was on his way home, and he gave his location as Skyline High School which is only two blocks from his home. He was on a walk with his dog Odin, a miniature Doberman Pinscher, and there was no indication that anything was wrong.
That was the last time anyone heard from him.
Since that time, a massive search and rescue operation has been launched. Helicopters, bloodhounds, and more than 200 police officers and firefighters were dispatched on Friday night. On Saturday morning, a volunteer effort was mounted. Hundreds of community volunteers joined in the search. The search intensified on Sunday as many local churches canceled services, instead directing church members to join in the search.
By Sunday night, 17 square miles of Salt Lake City had been searched, including everything from I-80 to 5200 south, and from 1300 East to the benches, including Millcreek Canyon. Nearly two thousand volunteers participated in the official police-led search groups, while hundreds more searched informally.
On Monday, volunteer search efforts were called off. Due to the bitterly cold temperatures from Wednesday to Friday, and the length of time that grandpa has been missing, the efforts are now focused on finding his body. Cadaver dogs have been dispatched to high probability areas.
To summarize, here is what we know:
- Fritz Helland is 80 years old. He is 5’10” and of thin build, maybe 165 lbs. He has white hair, blue eyes, and a distinctive Norwegian accent. He was last seen wearing a tan jacket.
- Fritz was last seen with his dog, Odin, a miniature Doberman Pinscher. Odin has a black coat, with brown markings on his snout, chest, the inside of his ears, and his legs. Odin is also missing.
- Two very likely sightings of Fritz and his dog occurred on Wednesday around 11:00a.m. These sightings occurred not far from his home (the location was 2700 east and 3500 south, specifically). Fritz appeared to be making his way east, toward home.
- At 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon, Fritz’s daughter stopped by his home with dinner for the night. Fritz wasn’t there. His daughter called his cell phone, and Fritz answered. He told her he was walking past Skyline High School (which is roughly two blocks southeast of his home). There was no sign of anything being wrong. His daughter had to leave, but she left dinner for him on the kitchen table. This dinner was never touched, which along with other factors, makes it unlikely that Fritz ever made it home on Wednesday.
- Fritz’s wallet, car keys, and vehicle were found at home. As far as we know, the only belongings he had with him at the time of his disappearance were his cell phone and the clothes on his back. (The dog was also with him.)
- Cell phone records show that a tower near the high school handled the aforementioned phone call. This is not conclusive evidence of Fritz’s location, as he could be within several miles of that tower – but it does mean that at the time of the phone call, he was no more than five miles from home.
- All subsequent phone calls have gone straight to voicemail, and the phone’s battery has since died. No better fix could be made on the location.
- Regarding Fritz’s state of mind, he does have some issues with short-term memory – as would be expected of a typical 80-year-old male – but he is coherent, and to our knowledge he has never had an episode that would explain a disappearance like this. Additionally, his dog has been with him for 16 years and they have walked in the area every day during that time. It is unlikely that both he and the dog would not be able to find their way home.
- From Friday, October 26th, to today (October 30th), the combined efforts of bloodhounds, helicopter and infrared, specialized search teams, and volunteer efforts have turned up no evidence of Fritz or his dog. Police efforts continue but organized community search efforts have been suspended.
- Due to the snowstorm and bitterly cold temperatures on the evening of Fritz’s disappearance, a possible scenario is that he and the dog may have become disoriented and sought shelter – perhaps in a shed, a trailer, an abandoned home, or somewhere else out of the public eye. At this time, police are asking residents of Salt Lake City to search their sheds, trailers, and yards for any sign of Fritz or his dog. Cadaver dogs have also been dispatched to high priority areas to assist in this search.
- If you know anything that may help us locate Fritz, please contact the Unified Police Department at 801-743-7000.
A number of sites have been assembled to help coordinate search efforts. These include:
- The official police department investigation page
- A “Find Fritz Helland” blog run by family members
- A Facebook page run by family members
If you have any relevant information to share, please share it with the police at 801-743-7000. Please do not send tips to me or other family members, as we will only direct you to the official police contact.
If you do not live in the Salt Lake City area, please still keep an eye out. The forceable abduction of an adult male and his dog would be extremely rare, but at this point we are not ruling anything out. Again, please report any possible sightings to the police at 801-743-7000.
Anything you can do to help spread the word is also appreciated. Facebook, Twitter, blogs, email – the venue doesn’t matter. The more people looking for grandpa, especially in the Salt Lake area, the better our chances of finding him.
My family and I are so incredibly grateful for the police and fire department’s efforts, especially that of Sheriff Winder and Detective Faulkner, as well as the overwhelming help from community volunteers. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
(I will do my best to update this page if more information becomes available.)