STILLWATER, Minn. — Thousands of people are missing in the wilderness, and they've never been found. The Jon Francis Foundation is working to bring many of those people home.
The team holds its meetings inside Ascension Episcopal Church in Stillwater.
"We've done 30 missing person searches over the last 16 years in 19 states and Canada. Six of them have been here in Minnesota," said David Francis, executive director of the Jon Francis Foundation.
Since 2007, Francis and a team of volunteers have worked to find people abandoned in the wilderness.
"Many foundations have risen out of tragedy, grief, and loss," he said.
This foundation is no different.
On July 16th, 2006, David got a call that no parent wants to receive: his son Jon had gone missing in the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. The Custer County Sheriff called a search party to find Jon, but on day two the sheriff came to the Francis family to tell them to "give your son up to the mountain."
"They weren't trained. But we were not going to leave our son on the mountain," said Francis
David and his family immediately started organizing a team to find Jon's remains. It took them over a year, but their lost son was found.
"We learned a tremendous amount about search and rescue," said Francis.
That painful experience led to them helping others find their lost loved ones as well, making sure their operation was different from what they personally experienced.
"We can provide longer-term searches. It's common that law enforcement will do a five to seven-day search and then discontinue, which leaves the family in deep trauma and despair," said Francis.
Andrew Jenks, a vital part of the team, says in times of loss, just showing up for someone can make all the difference.
"It's not closure, but it's just dealing with that unknown. That really is the motivation for the family," said Jenks.
So far, the team has recovered ten remains, but many of the foundation's searches are ongoing.
Right now, David's team is searching for a 5-year-old boy swept away in floodwaters during recent storms in California.
The Jon Francis Foundation offers free wilderness safety information to increase the knowledge, preparation, and safety of wilderness campers, climbers, hikers, and hunters.
The foundation also has two books available: Bringing Jon Home and Grief Travelers. Proceeds from book sales benefit the Jon Francis Foundation.