Paradise family continues its search for Loren Harvey Jr.
When Loren Harvey Jr. left his home late one afternoon, he was expected to come right back. The 41-year-old Paradise resident put on his ball cap and headed out in his truck, presumably on a quick errand.
That was on Oct. 15 at about 4:30 p.m. His family hasn’t seen or heard from him since.
As they begin a new year, nearly three months later, the Harveys are hoping someone will come forward to help put the mystery of his disappearance to rest. The family is not expecting a happy ending.
“He’s dead. We’re sure of that,” Loren’s father said matter-of-factly during a recent interview.
Loren Harvey Sr. came to that conclusion not long after some young people reported finding his son’s vehicle abandoned in a remote and rugged region near Sawmill Peak nine days after he vanished. The 2001 Dodge diesel truck was found on a steep, rocky area near Lassen National Forest property and accessible only by Oakway (also known as V Line), an unpaved road southeast of Paradise Lake. The truck was on a pathway used by off-road vehicles, in a spot he says his son, an avid off-road-driving enthusiast, would never have taken his work truck.
“It wasn’t an impassable road, but it was a road he would have known he couldn’t have gotten up in that truck,” Harvey said. “I just absolutely can’t put him there.”
His wife, Cindy, and daughter-in-law, Rose, Loren’s wife of 15 years, agree.
“He wouldn’t take that truck there,” Rose said, tearing up. “That was his highway truck.”
Harvey said that the vehicle at first appeared stuck. It was lodged on a small boulder, and its fuel had run to the back of the tank due to its angle on the steep path. But he explained that he simply had to move the large rock and place a rag over the air intake to start up the engine. His mechanically savvy son would have done the same thing, he insists.
“Could our son get it out? Absolutely,” he said, noting that Loren built his first four-wheel-drive vehicle when he was just 12 years old.
Those oddities are among the many that Loren’s loved ones have been attempting to wrap their heads around since he went missing. Not much of anything about his disappearance makes sense.
Paradise police Sgt. Steve Rowe is also wrangling with this strange missing-person case.
Rowe recalled the day the truck was found, noting its location on what he says likely was an old logging trail in a heavily vegetated region. The trail begins near a utilities gate that closes off the roadway. He said it appeared whoever was driving the truck was attempting to bypass the gate on the road that leads to Concow. On the seat were the keys to the vehicle, along with Loren’s wallet and other miscellaneous items. What Rowe didn’t find in the area was any sign of foul play.
“At this point we haven’t ruled out anything,” noted Rowe, the lead investigator. “We’re not treating it as a homicide, but we’re putting in the same amount of effort as if it was.”
Butte County Search and Rescue was called in that rainy October evening, and its members searched the area into the darkness, calling off the effort at about 9 p.m. Rowe pointed out that the area is home to cliffs and old mine shafts that make it an unsafe place to wander after dark. Rescuers resumed the next day and continued through the end of the month, more than a week of scouring the region’s terrain.
“They did not find anything that was related to Mr. Harvey,” he said.
Rowe confiscated items in the vehicle that he thought could be germane to the case. Under the back seat authorities found a handgun wrapped in a sock. Rowe said technicians will check the unregistered weapon for ballistics and fingerprints. Still, he has no reason to suspect foul play.
Without much to go on, Rowe says he began trying to get an idea of who Loren was and where he’d been. He learned that the day he went missing he’d bought beer and cigarettes at a local store. He also determined that Loren was last seen drinking a beer while parked on Lofty Lane in Paradise.
The question is what happened between that last sighting of Loren and the time his truck turned up more than a week later. Rowe hasn’t ruled out any scenario, including suicide.
He said he was concerned when he learned that Loren was an avid four-wheeler who knew the region. “If he was as familiar [with the area] as we think he was, he should have been able to walk out,” Rowe said. “For whatever reason, that didn’t happen.”
He was also concerned because Loren, an alcoholic who had been working on his recovery for years, had recently begun drinking again. Rowe said he also struggled with a dependency on prescription pain medication, which he took for an old motorcycle injury.
On the other hand, family and friends who know him better than anyone insist he would not take his own life, Rowe offered. The detective also said he has no reason to think Loren was involved in any criminal activity.
Loren didn’t lack friends. He had a regular routine that included getting up early and heading out to visit his buddies at places like Dutch Bros. Coffee and Les Schwab Tire Center.
“He was born and raised here, so everybody knows him,” said Rose.
The Harveys insist that Loren, who worked in the heavy-construction business, did not abandon his life. They also don’t believe he was suicidal. Right before disappearing, he’d been prepping his home for winter, putting down gravel in the driveway, his father pointed out. He seemed fine the last time his wife saw him off on her way out of the house on the morning of Oct. 15.
“It’s just a normal day—give him a kiss, head to work, [and say] ‘OK, I’ll see you later,’ ” said Rose, who works in Chico in the medical field.
Loren was close to his children, 14-year-old Tori and 9-year-old Chance, and he would never have left them willingly, Cindy said.
Harvey Sr. noted that the search-and-rescue effort included cadaver dogs. They found nothing—not a trace of his son. The family is convinced that someone knows what happened to Loren. That’s why they are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to his whereabouts.
Cindy said the family’s priority is to get him home—not only for emotional closure, but also because in California it takes five years for a missing person to be declared deceased. By that time, his life-insurance policy and union benefits will lapse, leaving nothing for the care of his children.
Harvey Sr. and other family and friends have put up fliers all over—including in remote areas such as Chester and Hallelujah Junction. As of Tuesday (Jan. 4), Harvey Sr. was up hiking in the Whiskey Flat area. He’s searching all over because he’s convinced Loren is not the person who drove his truck to that location. That’s why he believes his son is no longer alive.
“I felt in my heart he was gone,” he said recalling the day the truck was found. “But you don’t just stop looking.”
As odd as the situation seems, Rowe said the Police Department has seen several other similar cases. There are four additional missing Paradise residents. The most recent case involves the 2005 disappearance of Stacey Pool, who was never found, though her car was located along Highway 32 in Forest Ranch. None of the cases is closed.
For his part, Rowe says that the department hasn’t given up hope of locating Loren.
“The leads have dwindled … but if we get a lead we’re certainly going to jump on it, and hopefully at some point we will know what happened to Mr. Harvey,” he said.