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Everything we know about missing geologist Daniel Robinson

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Nothing about the disappearance of Daniel Robinson seems to make much sense.

The young geologist was always close and in contact with his family – until suddenly he disappeared for significant chunks of time.

He was smiling, happy-go-lucky, and always loved to chat – until suddenly he had a thousand-yard stare and couldn’t hold a conversation.

A large, 70-square-mile search area by air and land failed to find any trace of the missing man for almost a month – until suddenly his Jeep was found just a short distance from where he was last seen.

Police, private investigators, family and friends remained baffled as to what happened. Is it foul play? A planned disappearance? An endangered missing person’s case?

This is everything we know about Daniel Robinson and the bizarre circumstance that led to his disappearance in the hot desert of Arizona.

Who is Daniel Robinson?

South Carolina native Daniel Robinson, 24, graduated from the College of Charleston two years ago with a major in archaeology. He moved to Arizona after landing a job with Matrix New World Engineering.

He is described as a 5’8 Black man weighing 165 pounds with black hair, brown eyes and a distinctive characteristic; he is missing part of his right forearm, including his hand.

He was a keen outdoorsman, musician and traveller who was always close with his family and remained in constant contact with his parents and siblings.

Family, friends and coworkers “said he’s really happy-go-lucky, loves to have conversations and he’s always smiling”.

In the weeks leading up to his disappearance, and on the morning he vanished, Mr Robinson went from behaving normally to behaving erratically.

He made some comments family thought were odd, and one day he left his apartment wide open, and disappeared from contact for a significant chunk of time before returning.

The last time and place he was seen alive

He was last seen by coworker Ken Elliot at a well site near Buckeye, Arizona on 23 June around 9.15am local time. The pair had met for the first time that morning to assess a remote drill site in the Arizona desert.

The job site was near Sun Valley Parkway and Cactus Road in Buckeye. Temperatures throughout the summer climb well above 115 degrees and there’s next to no shelter.

Mr Elliott told The Independent that everything seemed fine as they discussed the weather and the job. But within a matter of minutes, Mr Robinson’s demeanour changed from normal to distracted.

“He was just looking off into the desert; he had a very, very distant look in his eyes,” Mr Elliott said. “Whenever he’d turn around again, I would look at him and look into his eyes – the first thing I thought was maybe it was drugs or something … [but] his pupils were not dilated.”

“From that standpoint, everything appeared to be normal,” Mr Elliott said. “Then I thought this was a medical condition or something. I wasn’t too sure. I kept watching him, but he just kept turning around and looking off into the desert.”

“Then he just turned around and walked back over to his Jeep, and I just assumed he was going to get something out of his vehicle. And he opened the door, got in, sat down, put on his seatbelt, then he looked at me and just waved at me and backed up and took off.”

While family and friends described Mr Robinson as “happy-go-lucky”, Mr Elliott said he didn’t see that side of him.

He was reported missing soon after disappearing

Mr Elliott informed his coworkers by phone about the situation, assuming the younger geologist wasn’t feeling well and would call in sick. Hours later, no one had heard from Mr Robinson, and Mr Elliott went investigating – finding the 24-year-old’s Jeep tracks heading further into the desert.

“When I saw that, my heart sank, because it just told me that he wasn’t going home,” Mr Elliott said. “Something was really not right.”

Father David Robinson told The Independent that the family in South Carolina became concerned after his son failed to check in that same day, which was unusual.

“We didn’t know what was going on; we know Dan does not ignore his phone calls,” Mr Robinson said.

“I can imagine his phone ringing, ringing, ringing for I think almost a day – and then finally I guess the phone died or somebody cut it off. After that point, it goes straight to the voicemail.”

He was reported missing to Buckeye Police Department the same day he was seen.

The search continues

The search has been led by Buckeye Police Department, using UTVs, cadaver dogs, “boots on the ground” and drones flying overhead, along with assistance in the air from Phoenix Firebird helicopters and civil air patrol.

Family members travelled from the East Coast to Arizona to join the search, which covered an area of 70 square miles.

On 19 July, almost a full month later, a rancher found his 2017 Jeep Renegade in a ravine just a few miles from the worksite where he was last seen by Mr Elliott.

It had landed on its side with “significant damage”. Police said a seatbelt had been worn at the time, and the airbags were found deployed.

The vehicle contained Mr Robinson’s phone, wallet, keys, and, curiously, the clothes he was last seen wearing. Bottled water was also found.

The ravine was searched on the ground by foot and in the air by the Department of Public Safety Ranger helicopter, but they found no further trace of Mr Robinson.

On the same day, the family hired a private investigator: former police officer Jeff McGrath.

On 31 July, a human skull was found but it did not belong to Mr Robinson, nor did it belong to another missing person. Its identity remains unknown. Other remains recovered during searches were determined to be animal bones.

Strange circumstances after the disappearance

Based on GPS data, Mr McGrath told the man’s family that the vehicle got into multiple accidents after the geologist’s disappearance, but before it finally fell down the ravine.

Evidence from the vehicle strangely shows that it crashed, the airbags deployed, then drove another 11 miles and was involved in another crash, said Mr McGrath, who specialises in accident investigations.

The first crash was four hours after he went missing, based on the GPS data, while there was also some “paint transfer” from the vehicle.

After that first accident, it’s unknown where the vehicle was taken next. Mr McGrath said that after the airbags were deployed, the ignition was turned on at least 46 more times during the additional 11 miles put on the Jeep.

It was found only a few miles from the place Mr Robinson was seen, in an area that had already been searched.

“Because of the rough terrain, the vehicle was not clearly visible to crews searching by air and foot,” police said in a press release.

What police think happened

There was no blood found in the car and there are no indications of foul play, police said.

Carissa Planalp, Buckeye PD’s public information officer, said they were continuing to analyse the evidence and data taken from the geologist’s vehicle.

But they still have no indication of where he is or what happened.

“We’re looking for any information from the public – and the public has really come out in a big way through searches and through providing information that’s been so helpful. But we need more. We need more information,” she said.

The search, and the case, remain open.

What the private investigator thinks happened

Mr McGrath says, at minimum, “we have an endangered missing person case”.

“If he’s not right in his head and he just kind of wanders off, that could be a problem,” he said.

“Maybe he did just take off, but he’s got nothing. There’s no evidence that he built an account somewhere to have money; he didn’t have much money to begin with. He didn’t have a phone, his ID … we didn’t see any of that pre-planning that you would see if somebody just wanted to just go be someone else.”

What the family thinks happened

While the geologist’s family are holding out hope and trying to keep the search alive, his father believes he may have met with foul play.

Mr Robinson believes his son’s Jeep, found two miles away with no blood or no sign of bodies nearby, was “dumped”.

“It was returned to an area near where we were searching – my theory would be maybe to try to throw us off,” he told The Independent.

“Buckeye Police Department, they did a search, they didn’t find a vehicle – and also my search team had been out there; they hadn’t seen the vehicle,” he added.

As the Robinson family continues to search and hope and pray, the elder Mr Robinson said, he’s clinging to one specific personal theory.

“I believe that, somehow, God’s going to bring my son back alive,” he said.

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