As the search for former Juneau law clerk Joseph Balderas continued into its fourth day Thursday, his family and girlfriend were on their way to Nome, where he now lives, to help in the effort.
“Whatever we can do to help in the search for him, whatever they need us to do, we’re going to be out there,” said Balderas’ younger sister Salina Hargis, 32, who traveled to Alaska from Hawaii.
Balderas, 36, was reported missing Monday morning when he didn’t show up to work, according to the Alaska State Troopers dispatch. Balderas is a law clerk at the Nome court.
Troopers located the vehicle he was driving Monday at mile 44 of the Nome-Council Highway. That section of the 72-mile gravel road approaches the East Fork of Solomon River, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website. The habitat is elevated and is a good place to scan the surrounding slopes and river valley.
Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said someone who was driving by saw Balderas with the vehicle there Saturday afternoon, “and we haven’t found anybody else that has seen him since.”
“Everything that we know about this person indicates that he was going there to do trail running or hiking in the area,” Peters said on the phone Thursday.
Juneau local Megan Rider, Balderas’ girlfriend, last communicated with him Saturday around 10 a.m.
She said he had gone fishing the night of Friday, June 24, and they talked on the phone afterward.
“He called me about 9 p.m. to check in. He said he got a pink. He said the fish are running and he was having a great time,” Rider said during a Thursday morning phone interview.
Balderas had WhatsApp messaged her a photo of the salmon fillets after the phone call. He then messaged, “I’m heading back out.”
Rider said he camped out that Friday night and the two messaged the following morning around 10 a.m. He was home — Balderas lived with a roommate in downtown Nome — but he wrote in the message he planned on heading out again “to another river where kings might be.”
That was the last Rider heard from him.
She said Balderas wasn’t planning on camping. She continued to send him messages throughout Saturday and Sunday, but none of them indicated they were received. When she called his work Monday morning and found out he hadn’t shown up, she was extremely worried.
The Nome Court and Rider reported him missing to the troopers.
Rider met Balderas in Juneau in 2013. She said he came to Alaska in 2011 and worked nine-month stints as a state law clerk in Kenai, Anchorage and Juneau. He worked in Nome in the same position for almost two years. Balderas also worked with Nome’s Youth Court.
Originally from Lubbock, Texas, Balderas was the first in his family to go to college at Texas Tech University. He graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School on scholarship in 2009.
Rider said he fell in love with Alaska.
“The reason he took the clerking route was because he wanted to see as much of Alaska as possible so clerking afforded him the luxury to live in Anchorage, Kenai, Juneau and Nome,” she said.
During his three months off each year, Balderas would travel the state kayaking, hiking and fishing.
“He’s living his dream by being here,” Rider said.
But she said Balderas was ready to settle down.
“He was moving in with me in August — he is moving in with me in August and he’s going to start his law practice,” she said, correcting herself.
Multiple agencies have been searching for Balderas in Nome, including troopers, U.S. Coast Guard, Nome Volunteer Fire Department/Search and Rescue, National Park Service, Fairbanks PAWS dog teams, as well as volunteers on ground searches and ATVs.
“We’ve had aircraft, both fixed wing and helicopters, crisscrossing the area and they haven’t found any sign of him,” trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said.
When the official search ends, friends and family hope to continue the efforts with funds raised through the website YouCaring. As of Thursday afternoon, more than $22,000 had been raised toward a $30,000 goal. A Facebook page called Finding Joseph has updates of the search.
Rider is extremely hopeful and said she believes Balderas is injured somewhere waiting to be saved.
“If there’s anyone who can survive, it’s him. He’s the smartest person I know. He’s a skilled outdoorsman,” she said.
Rider, her mother, Balderas’ parents, two sisters and a couple friends took a late afternoon flight from Anchorage to Nome Thursday. Rider said the Nome community has been warm and generous.
“They’re picking us up, putting us up in a hotel. People are offering vehicles and meals and airline miles and everything they can,” Rider said.
Rider and the family plan to be in Nome as long as it takes.
“We’re going to be there until we find Joseph,” she said.
• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.