A search effort for a mildly autistic 24-year-old man named Alonso “Israel” Salazar were proving unsuccessful in Prescott on Tuesday, June 5.
More than 40 hours had passed since the man’s disappearance from Emmanuel Pines Camp and a great number of resources had been deployed to locate him.
A resident in the area, Michael Byrd, knew of what was going on and had tried assisting with the search when Salazar first went missing Sunday night. It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that he felt compelled to give it another try. Familiar with the many trails in the area, he decided to venture on one he rarely travels. Along it, he spotted shoe prints about the size Salazar is known to wear.
“They were clearly prints of a regular street shoe — like what Israel was wearing that day when he wandered off,” Michael said.
Byrd pursued the tracks fervently and was optimistic given how fresh the tracks appeared. There came a point, however, where he started questioning how much farther he could go.
“I needed to find him pretty soon, or they would be looking for me too,” Michael said.
But as he came around a curve, he spotted something sprawled out beside the trail. It was Salazar.
“I don’t recall when I have experienced such a flood of pure joy coming over me,” Michael said.
Salazar was only about a mile from the camp, as the crow flies, but at least a couple miles if one were to take the trail system to where he was.
“His first words were ‘do you have some water?’” Michael said.
When they returned to the camp, Salazar explained that he had gone for a walk Sunday night and eventually realized he wasn’t sure where he was and how he could get back to the camp.
Mara Byrd, who is the local director of the group Salazar came to Emmanuel Pines Camp with, said the reason he walked off in the first place was because he wanted to work off some anxiety he had gotten right before dinner.
“He’s not a big eater, and we knew that and we said ‘Israel, you have to come eat with us,’ because he did get anxiety about eating,” Mara said.
Believing him to be independent, Mara and the others in the group allowed Salazar to take his walk without supervision.
It was about an hour later that they realized he hadn’t returned, so they began searching the premises for him. With no sign of him, they called 911 shortly after 7:30 p.m. and the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO) began an official search and rescue operation.
The night after being found, Salazar admitted to his friends and family that he had seen and heard people looking for him.
“He heard people call his name, but because of his autism, he didn’t call out,” Mara said. “He saw from afar the horseback riders. He heard the helicopter, but that scared him. The ATVs scared him.”
Had Michael not struck out on his own to find Salazar, the story may have been much different.
“We’re very pleased with what this guy did, because we had been up and down that same trail several times,” said YCSO spokesperson Dwight D’Evelyn.