It was July 9, 2015, a warm summers day in Idaho Falls, when Vernal DeOrr Kunz and Jessica Mitchell headed out to Timber Creek Campground along with their 2-year-old son Deorr, Jessica's grandfather Robert Walton, and Robert's friend Isaac Reinwand. They left in the evening after Vernal finished work, with him, Jessica and DeOrr in Vernal's black truck, and Robert and Isaac in Robert's SUV with a camper on the back. The trip was largely arranged for Robert's sake. He was in ill health and used an oxygen tank, but loved to camp and had been to the site several times before. Jessica was asked to accompany him by her mother and had brought her family along for the weekend. After a two hour drive, the group set up camp and settled in for the night.
After breakfast the next morning, Vernal, Jessica and DeOrr headed to the nearby village of Leadore to pick up some gas and supplies. Though Vernal and Jessica later claimed that a number of people during their three hour trip saw and interacted with DeOrr, none of these people reported seeing the toddler with his parents. Jessica also reported that a man at the general store had been staring at DeOrr to the extent that it made her feel uncomfortable. Upon their return to the camp, Robert and Isaac showed Vernal and Jessica the fish that they had caught in the shallow creek on site. With Robert tired from the morning's activities, Isaac offered to take Jessica and Vernal down to show them the fishing spot. She placed DeOrr in his chair and asked Robert to keep an eye on him while they were gone. Isaac took them part of the way and then headed off to fish nearer to the camp. After a little while, Vernal decided to go back for DeOrr so he could show him the minnows in the creek. When he got back to the camp, however, DeOrr was nowhere to be seen.
It was almost an hour and a half before search and rescue made it to Timber Creek Campground, by which time DeOrr is estimated to have been missing for 3 hours. Wearing oversized cowboy boots, it seemed certain that DeOrr couldn't have made it very far. Police put forward their best efforts, using a dive team, cadaver dogs, and a state-of-the-art search and rescue helicopter, yet after ten days there was still no trace of the little boy. After numerous inconsistent interviews with police, Vernal and Jessica were publicly named as suspects in January of 2016.
A private investigator named Frank Vilt soon offered to help the family in exchange only for his expenses, and initially expressed the belief that DeOrr had been abducted. A month later, however, Vilt wrote to Jessica and Vernal to let them know that he would no longer be working on the case. In the letter, he states:
'I told both of you that if I felt you were not telling me the truth, stalling me or otherwise misleading me that I would withdraw from the investigation. In my professional opinion, both of you lied and misrepresented the true facts that could solve the mystery of your missing son...The searches are only used by you to cover a possible crime that one or both of you may have committed...Sooner or later, the truth will come out.'
Two months after Vilt abruptly quit, Vernal's father Dennis hired another private investigator, Philip Klein, to look into DeOrr's disappearance. When Klein later released a statement to the media naming Jessica, Vernal and Robert as suspects, he was promptly fired by Dennis. In an interview with East Idaho News, Klein stated that both Jessica and Vernal had changed their stories multiple times throughout the investigation and that Jessica had even admitted she knew where DeOrr's body was located. Klein was later rehired by another family member but officially withdrew from the case in 2017, stating that until Jessica and Vernal told the truth, there was nothing further to investigate. Both Robert and Isaac have also been named as people of interest by the police, though neither has ever been formally identified as a suspect.
Three years have now passed since a blond-haired boy in oversized boots vanished into the Idaho wilderness. On the third anniversary of DeOrr's disappearance, a dozen family members and friends gathered together to say a prayer and walk in his honour. Some wore blue t-shirts with DeOrr's smiling face; the back stating simply: 'Never lose hope.'