Philip Kreycik Wasn’t Speculated to Die This Approach



Thoburn was busy with chores that day when, around 3:30, his phone lit up with a call from Kreycik’s number. It was the police. From there, Thoburn says, the details blur.

Kreycik was missing. Police had found his car at a trailhead parking lot. They’d looked through his phone, text history, and Strava account and wanted to confirm: Had Thoburn and Kreycik run together the night before?

Yes, Thoburn remembers answering, still in shock. And yes, Kreycik planned to run today. Yes, he was happy, had things he was excited about. The officer hung up. Thoburn didn’t even know which department had called.

As soon as the conversation ended, Thoburn says, “my first instinct is, oh shit, I need to go help find him. Then it was just helplessness, because I had no idea where to start.” Kreycik hadn’t told him where he planned to go and the cops hadn’t either.

Thoburn didn’t have Jen’s number. He tried email, then Facebook. He texted other runners about helping search; considered just picking a park they’d talked about the night before. Anything to start looking.

Around 6 P.M., Jen sent a map of the trailhead. Thoburn threw gear and water into his trunk. When he got to Pleasanton, county search-and-rescue teams from across the region were already there, and Thoburn filled them in on everything he knew, what Kreycik might do, and how he might have shortened the route—which the police had gleaned from his Strava account—to fit his timeframe.

Thoburn asked the SAR team if he could help search. Since he wasn’t part of a SAR unit, they couldn’t officially ask him to, he remembers being told. But they wouldn’t stop him, either.

As the summer sky darkened, the temperature still 85 degrees, Thoburn and a friend ran the southern end of Kreycik’s planned route, calling his name and scouring the trail with their flashlights. Three hours later, they briefly returned to the trailhead, and then Thoburn went out again, this time with a park neighbor who knew of some unmapped singletrack. It was after 2 A.M. when he got home.

On just a few hours’ sleep, Thoburn drove back to the park the next day, armed with maps and more ideas about where his friend might have gone. While up on the ridge, he got a call from Tom Wooten, a close friend from Kreycik’s days at Harvard.

Wooten had seen a family Strava post and at first had assumed it was a joke—he couldn’t imagine his old friend ever getting lost, or if he did, not having the smarts or endurance to make it out. But a call to Kreycik’s dad confirmed the worst. Stuck on the East Coast but hoping to help get lots of people into the hills fast, he called Thoburn.

“Is it OK if I put your contact info out there?” Wooten asked. He shot off emails to Harvard friends living in the Bay Area and made a Facebook post; word of the search quickly went viral. A Pleasanton community leader, Sandy Schneider, saw a post and shared it to every outdoor group she could find on Facebook.

News reports that week had warned of approaching triple-digit temperatures, the latest in a series of record-breaking heat waves that baked the West all through that summer and had killed hundreds of people across the Pacific Northwest.

By Sunday afternoon, Thoburn recalls, “the phone calls just started rolling in and rolling in and rolling in.” Monday morning, some 60 volunteers stood in the parking lot, waiting to help. Tuesday, there were more.

Among them were Betsy Everett and Carlo Facchino, runners and roommates who coordinate a series of Bay Area endurance events.

“It really hit home that this could be me,” Facchino says. “I don’t run with my phone. Ninety percent of the time I forget my GPS watch. I probably would have forgotten my water bottle.” So would most people he knew.

They joined more than 2,000 volunteers working with Thoburn to augment the official SAR search. Everett came almost every day, others came when they could, still more contributed from afar, managing a Facebook group and collecting searchers’ tracks on Strava. Some were Kreycik’s coworkers, family, and friends who flew in to help. Some were outdoors people eager to use their skills. Others lived close to the park.

More than a dozen SAR agencies searched too, responding to the call with teams, drones, and dogs. Local officials called it one of the biggest searches in state history.

“Everywhere you looked, it seemed, people were going through the trees, and going off the trails, clearing all the areas,” Facchino says, recalling his first day there. “I think everybody had a confidence that he was going to be found.”

But three days passed, with no sign of Kreycik.

July 13, a park neighbor reported hearing cries for help in a canyon near his route, but an extensive overnight search found nothing. Later that week, the official SAR effort scaled back because of a lack of clues, leaving only Thoburn’s cadre of community volunteers, who kept coming back even as hope waned.

Near the end of the month, Sergeant Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s office told local reporters: “We’re mystified, we’re frustrated, we’re perplexed as to why we haven’t found Philip.” It was possible, his office speculated, that Kreycik wasn’t there at all.

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