searching for broc
Broc went missing Saturday night. We didn't realize that fact until Sunday morning when he didn't show up at church to lead worship for children's ministry.
It wasn't like him.
At nineteen, Broc is one of the most dependable boys you could know. He's the boy you'd trust with your spare house key, or your pin number, or your daughter. He's gentle, and more patient than many adults twice his age. I watched him once carry a small Japanese exchange student from his car to the church, because the boy was exhausted from touring the day before and told Broc he was too tired to cross the parking lot.
He's a boy who loves church so much, he planned a few weekends ago to drive separately from his parents on an eight-hour trip south to a friend's wedding--just so he could attend our young adults' Bible study on Friday night and be back in time for the first Leaders In Training class on Sunday night. We all had to convince him it would be okay to miss both gatherings and make the trip with his family.
So when he didn't show up Sunday morning, and it turned out no one had seen him since 10:00 the night before, we unleashed a flood of futile phone calls, prayed, and spread out to search for his car. One couple, John and Laurie, had flyers printed with his picture and "Have you seen Broc?" in big, black letters. By noon, they were distributed all over Marysville and Arlington. We called state patrol and the local hospitals. His father, Dan, rented a plane and took three men from church up to canvas the wooded Tulalip reservation east of town. Dave and I drove up and down every aisle of WalMart, and the Tulalip Casino, and the new Seattle Premium Outlet Mall, hoping to spot his car.
It may sound like we acted hastily, but if you knew our church history, you'd understand. We've been through this nightmare before. Less than three years ago, we lost a beautiful, eighteen year old girl when she was kidnapped and murdered by a gang of eight. Rachel's body wasn't discovered for two weeks--two weeks we spent knocking on doors and taping flyers to windows and asking for a miracle.
We didn't get the outcome we asked for. Though we know Rachel is with Jesus; that she understands truths no one one on earth understands and sees beauty we've yet to discover, it has been a difficult reality to accept. And I couldn't imagine trying to cope with another loss of that magnitude.
The search was surreal. While split up in separate cars, I drove behind a closed dental office and searched the field behind the building. I scanned bushes and checked along the treeline, hoping he was lying hurt but alive somewhere. And then I walked toward two green dumpsters. I knew, when I placed my hand on the edge of the first lid, that I was revealing an unspoken fear by looking inside. I knew that somewhere in me was a suspicion that Broc might not be alive. There's no other reason for looking in a dumpster. It took me a second to find the strength to lift that edge. A nauseating smell rushed through the crack, but all I saw inside were white plastic garbage bags. The second dumpster was no easier. It too, yielded only garbage.
I left the dental office and drove slowly, searching the edge of the road. The only scenario I could imagine was that Broc--who had been to our annual Strawberry Festival the night before, and had last been seen walking toward his car--had been jumped by a stranger. I imagined him lying somewhere with a head injury. No other possibility existed for me. He wouldn't take off and tell no one. Not Broc.
I saw a dead-end sign on a road I'd never driven before, though I've lived in Marysille fifteen years and it's not a large town. I almost ignored the street, but when I noticed a field of grass at the end, I turned around. The road was tucked-away, abandoned, utterly empty. It's not a place anyone would frequent. A bus barn edged the road on one side, but the other held only a storage unit and the meadowy field. The grass was low enough there that I could easily see across the field; nothing there caused me alarm. The road ended in a curve. As I turned to leave, I glanced to my left down a long, grassed alley-way nestled between a storage unit and a cyclone fence. Something there caught my eye, but I'd already passed the alley by the time it registered. My heart dropped to my stomach as I put the car in reverse. I looked again--and saw a body. It was the body of a young male.
Nothing would come out of my mouth. I just stared at the figure on the grass, willing it to move. One leg was up and the boy's head was cocked at an odd angle and leaning awkwardly against the building. "Hello!" I managed to yell. The body didn't move. "Hello!" I yelled again. No movement at all. "Broc, is that you?"
My sister and her family were somewhere nearby searching. I'd just spoken with her, so she was the first person I thought to call. "Tarri ... I see a body. And it's not moving."
"We're on our way," she said, when I managed to give her my location, "but we're at least five minutes from you."
Dave had to be closer than that. "I'm calling Dave," I said.
When I told him what I was looking at, he told me to stay by the car and wait for him. As I hung up, Tarri called back. "We're coming," she said.
"Tarri ... I really think I've found Broc," I said. And then I started sobbing. Hibernating memories of Rachel's death woke and rose and swirled around me in a wave of pain and disbelief. I didn't know how we would all survive this.
Tarri began crying, too. "It's okay ... it's okay ...it's okay ..." she kept repeating, over and over.
My loud sobs roused the body. The someone who was not Broc--the someone who'd apparently needed a nap so badly he'd dropped to the first secluded spot he could find--jumped to his feet and fumbled for his coat.
"I'm sorry," I managed to say. "You're okay. I thought you were Broc." Of course, he didn't know who Broc was or why I was sobbing and babbling. He disappeared quickly behind the building and I drove away.
We spent the next several hours talking to police and driving. I saw places in my hometown I'd never seen before, beat down bushes behind schools and explored deserted back roads on the nearby Indian reservation.
We got a call in the early afternoon that sent a chill through us. Lisa, Broc's mom--and one of my oldest friends--had discovered that someone had used Broc's debit card in another town just hours earlier. We congregated in the store parking lot and hugged. The manager wouldn't let us see the receipts, the store security cameras weren't working, and the Arlington police felt no hurry to intervene.
We didn't know what to do next. We'd run out of ideas, and we'd all become painfully aware of how large an area we were trying to search. But then, just before 4:00, Lisa's phone rang. It was her husband, Dan, and he was crying so hard he could barely speak.
Amidst shouting and laughing and sobbing and thanking God, we heard the tale. Broc had followed a spontaneous thought the night before. Instead of driving home, he turned and drove east to Granite Falls and the Mountain Loop Highway which runs through a heavily forested and sparsely populated area. He'd gone because he had a few things to discuss with God. For one, he wanted to pray about attending the Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California this coming year.
The Mountain Loop Highway is beautiful during the day, and pitch black at night. There are no stores in site, and unless you go miles and miles away from Granite Falls, you won't even see a ranger station. Somewhere along that road, not really sure of where he was, Broc ran out of gas ... and discovered his cell phone was dead. He had no choice but to spend a cold night sleeping in his car.
In the morning, he grabbed two Big Gulp cups from the back seat of his car and started walking. It took him hours to get back to town and find a gas station. Did he pass houses along the way? Yes. But Broc is someone who doesn't like to put anyone out. It never occurred to him that we might have launched a massive search party for him. He was bothered that he'd missed church, but didn't give the rest of it another thought. And so instead of walking up to a house and asking for help, he just kept walking.
At the gas station, he used what little money he had with him to fill the two cups with gas. (The debit card situation--which is completely unrelated to Broc's disappearance--is still a mystery. Broc hasn't seen his card for several days, but it's apparent someone has it and is using it.) Then he asked to use the phone, but the attendent told him the store policy was to not allow the public to use it. Rather than saying, "I've been out all night and no one knows where I am," Broc just nodded and started walking back to his car.
The Bible says that when one lost sinner repents, the angels rejoice. I believe that. I believe I felt just a tiny portion of that rejoicing when my turn came to hug Broc. I reached up and embraced that six-foot tall boy and remembered the first moment I met him, at eighteen months, and got down on the floor to toss a ball back and forth with him. I thought about how dark the world would have seemed without our Broc in it--and how gloriously bright everything looked now that he was found again.
I know he's embarrassed. It was obvious by the look on his face that he feels horrible for what he put us through. But much later that night, when he was alone again with his family and Lisa asked him what he was feeling, he didn't say he felt horrible or embarrassed. Instead, he said, "I feel loved."
And he is.