Skull found on Frisco mountain identified as missing Breckenridge man
October 13, 2015
A skull found near the top of Peak 1 was recently identified as Jack McAtee, a Breckenridge man who went missing on Sept. 19, 2014.
The discovery marked a difficult form of closure for McAtee's family, who organized several search efforts throughout the mountains in the last year in hopes of finding their son.
"So, our search has come to fruition. Our closure is at hand, albeit we acknowledge it will be a lifelong process," the family wrote on Oct. 9, two days after they received news of the identification. "There's nobody now who saw just what Jack saw, knows what he knew, remembers what he remembered, loves what he loved. A person, an irreplaceable person, is gone."
Jack, 27, disappeared the day after his car rolled off of Dillon Dam Road into the reservoir. He managed to swim from the car to safety, with just a scratch above his left eye. A state trooper reported erratic behavior on McAtee's part, but noted that he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol; in fact, he had stopped taking bipolar medication 10 days earlier.
After the crash, he was hospitalized at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco and transferred to Summit Safe Haven later that night.
After meeting with a psychologist, he was discharged at 11 a.m. — where he was last seen exiting the back door of Summit Medical Center. He had gone missing three times previously but never for such an extended period of time. That day, he had told to his boss at the Breckenridge Hat Co. that he would be leaving his job and moving out of the area.
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Nearly a year later on Aug. 11, two hikers found a skull as they descended from the 12,900-foot summit of Peak 1. The skull was found in a steep area with several cliff bands, where members of the Summit County Search and Rescue Group searched for clues to the identity but found none.
"We would like Summit County Search and Rescue to know how much we appreciate the thousands of hours they've spent on searching the mountains," Steve McAtee, Jack's father, said. "He was a highly-adventurous spirit with a great heart who loved the mountains so much."
He also thanked the Summit County Sheriff's Office for their searching efforts, including Sheriff John Minor and Sergeant Cale Osborn.
"The confirmation is there. We want the people of Breckenridge to know how much the McAtee family loves their home and remembers Jack in it," Steve added.
Summit County Sheriff's officers were not able to determine the cause or manner of death after the skull was found. They were not available for comment at the time of this story.
Summit County Coroner Regan Wood sent the skull to a forensic odontologist to see if a match could be made using dental records. When a match was not found, the skull was sent to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System at the University of Northern Texas, where a DNA test confirmed Jack's identity.
Wood said she received the results on Oct. 5 — confirming that the genetic data are approximately 1.6 trillion times more likely to be unidentified remains from the biological child of Ellen and Steve McAtee than an unrelated individual.
"There's a very strong support for the declared biological relationship," Wood said. "You don't usually see it that high."
The McAtee family will hold a service in memory of their son in Chesterfield, Mo. In lieu of flowers, they request that donations be made to Living Water International in Jack McAtee's name, to build wells in Kenya.
"It was really near and dear to Jack's heart," Steve said. "It would be a wonderful way for anyone to remember Jack, to make a small contribution."
He added that the family's goal is to raise $50,000 in Jack's name. Donations can be made to http://www.water.cc/jack-mcatees-well-of-love.
"… Far be it from this family to wallow away in despair, bitterness, hopelessness. For we know beyond the shadow of doubt that Jack is with his Father in heaven now, without a trace of mental illness, absent from all evil, exploring the mountain tops of heaven, eagerly anticipating our arrival," the family wrote.
"The story's not over," Steve added. "We've got a very hopeful future in his memory."
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