Still missing: 10 years later, questions linger about boy

    In this photo from 1998, searchers pass a tree tied with a yellow ribbon and a photo of Derrick Engebretson as they search the Pelican Butte area where the 8-year-old Klamath County boy disappeared. - 1999 file photo

    It's been a decade since 8-year-old Derrick Engebretson disappeared in the woods near Klamath Falls while Christmas tree hunting with his family.

    Police hope another 10 years won't go by before closure is brought to Lori and Robert Engebretson, who continue to hold onto a shred of hope their son made it off Pelican Butte alive that night.

    "We don't know anymore," Lori Engebretson said. "For a while I thought maybe we would find him on the mountain. We also wonder if someone may have taken him."

    The couple, who live in Bonanza, still search Pelican Butte on occasion, but the steep, rugged terrain near the northern end of Upper Klamath Lake has become an impediment. The couple used to spend much of their time combing the mountain in the years after a massive search effort by several police agencies failed to turn up any sign of Derrick.

    "I am not as young as I used to be," Lori Engebretson said.

    Derrick was on the hunt for a Christmas tree with his parents and grandfather when he wandered off and disappeared into the snowy woods about 30 miles from Klamath Falls.

    His family attempted a hasty search immediately after it became clear the boy had become separated from his grandfather. They called authorities, who descended on the area over the next few weeks with hundreds of volunteers, snowmobiles and search dogs.

    Eventually, the search teams drifted away, leaving the Engebretsons without answers.

    A Christmas tree decorated with teddy bears and ornaments remains near the spot where the family pickup was parked that day. The spot could hold some clues about what happened to Derrick, Lori Engebretson said.

    "We know he made it back to the truck because we found some wood he had chopped with his little hatchet near there," she said. "We also found a snow angel he had made near the road, so we know he made it out of the woods at some point."

    The mystery took a turn six years ago, when Lori Engebretson received word from Salem police saying a man lodged in the Marion County Jail had bragged to a cellmate that he had kidnapped and murdered the boy, according to stories in The Oregonian.

    Jack Milligan, who is serving 36 years in prison for raping and assaulting a 10-year-old boy in Dallas, Ore., continues to be a suspect in Derrick's disappearance, Lori Engebretson said.

    Klamath County Sheriff's Office Det. Jeff Lord would not comment on whether he has singled out Milligan as a suspect. Lord said the case remains open and he is working with Oregon State Police to solve Derrick's case.

    "We won't give up," said Lord, who has a picture of Derrick near his desk. "You don't give up on these cases."

    Lord has hiked the terrain surrounding Pelican Butte several times, saying the area has become more difficult to search as the brush has thickened over the decade.

    The Engebretsons are organizing a large-scale search of the area this summer. In the meantime, they remain in contact with police to keep abreast of possible changes in the investigation.

    "Hopefully, someone will remember something and call us or the police so we can have Derrick back," Lori Engebretson said.

    Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the Klamath County Sheriff's Department at 541-883-5130.

    Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail

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