Three weeks ago, Felipe Negrete chased a ghost up a mountain.
It had been 10 years since his 12-year-old son, Jared, vanished high on Mt. San Gorgonio and was never seen again. Negrete followed his son’s path up the mountain, prayed, then collapsed, clawing at the rocky trail.
It was a difficult trip, but necessary.
“I felt my son near me,” Felipe Negrete said. “I felt closure.”
But that fragile peace has been shattered because another boy is lost in the same area on Southern California’s highest peak.
Suddenly, the Negretes are glued to their television set, awaiting word on 16-year-old William Parven, as if he were their own son.
Linda Negrete finds herself dusting off the piece of wood that Jared carved his name into, running her fingers over the crude letters. The Negretes gaze at Jared’s portrait over the fireplace and wonder what he would look like today, what he would be doing if he were still alive.
And they have stumbled into a tragic kinship with a set of parents they have never met.
“I just wish I could put my arms around that boy’s mother,” Linda Negrete said.
Ten years ago, hundreds of rescuers searched for 19 days before giving up hope of finding Jared Negrete.
William Parven has been missing for four days on the 11,499-foot mountain. The Negretes know it could be the beginning of a much longer ordeal for the boy’s parents.
“I see the looks on their face,” Linda Negrete said. “It’s desperation. It’s horror. No one can comprehend it. But I know it. I feel it again, in an instant.”
In July 1991, Jared Negrete, a shy, pudgy, friendly boy from El Monte, went with his Boy Scout troop on his first overnight camping trip.
The 14 boys and their leader began hiking at Camp Tahquitz, south of Big Bear Lake, and were en route to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio when Jared began lagging behind. At some point, he is believed to have strayed onto the wrong trail.
Rescue teams from as far away as Malibu searched around the clock. They found shoe prints at about 10,000 feet matching those of Jared. They found his backpack. They found beef jerky and candy wrappers. They found his camera. They developed the film and found a haunting last picture Jared had taken of himself. His small arms could reach out only so far from his face, so the photo was an extreme close-up.
They never found Jared.
“You could see in the photo that he was very scared,” Felipe Negrete said. “It is a beautiful place. God created it that way. But it is not a playground. It is a dangerous place.”
Mt. San Gorgonio, in the southeastern part of the San Bernardino National Forest north of Beaumont and Banning, is the highest peak in California south of the Sierra Nevada. It is a breathtaking bramble of rocky crags, sandy switchbacks and dozens of trails, many of which meander to nowhere.
Hikers frequently get lost in the area. Most either wander back to civilization or are found by search-and-rescue teams.
Rarely do they vanish without a trace, said El Monte Police Chief Bill Ankeny, who was a captain on the force 10 years ago and helped organize the search for Jared.
Ankeny remembers that there were many theories about what might have happened to Jared, that he had been attacked by a bear or a mountain lion, that he had wandered onto a road and was kidnapped. Those theories were discounted.
Ankeny says his thoughts immediately returned to the frustrating search for Jared when he heard Wednesday morning of William Parven’s disappearance.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Ankeny, who went to the mountain to help with the search. “The parents were suffering, and we suffered right along with them.”
William Parven, who is from the San Fernando Valley, was last seen Sunday afternoon. He had gone on ahead of his father and 12-year-old sister as they hiked toward the summit of San Gorgonio.
At 16, William is four years older than Jared was. He is reportedly a far more experienced hiker and camper. No one has given up hope that he will be found alive.
The Negretes heard about Parven when their daughter, April, called Monday after hearing about it on the news.
“There’s another one,” April told them. “Up in the woods.”
Linda Negrete said she prays for William’s safe return. If the worst happens, she says, she hopes that rescuers at least are able to recover the body.
“That would be something,” she said. “I have nothing. I don’t even have a grave.”
Much has happened to the Negretes since Jared’s highly publicized disappearance. They have moved from El Monte to Walnut, away from reminders of Jared. Along with their two biological children, they have adopted two more, a girl and a boy.
“One does not take the place of another,” Linda Negrete said. “But it sure helps.”