CALIFORNIA (NBC News) — Derek Weidner moved from Houston, Texas to Santa Rosa earlier in the summer to work for a private company as a lineman restoring power lines that had been destroyed in the horrific wildfires that ravaged California last year.
The 25-year-old was just settling into his new home at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds RV Park on Ashton Avenue, where many of the other linemen lived.
Judy Weidner, Derek’s mother who lives in Arizona, told Dateline she spoke with her son on the phone around 8:30 p.m. on Friday, July 19, 2019.
“We talked about my nephew’s upcoming wedding. Derek was supposed to be a groomsman, so we were just talking about flight arrangements and such,” Judy said. “He sounded fine. Happy. We said love you to each other and that was that.”
That was the last time Judy spoke to her son. The next day, he was gone.
Derek’s friends, who also live in the RV park, were the last ones to see him. They told authorities with the Santa Rosa Police Department they all hung out with him until about 10 p.m. that night. But the next morning, Derek was gone. And so was his truck.
“His friend, who was living in the trailer beside Derek called me the next day. On Saturday,” Judy told Dateline. “He asked if I knew where Derek was because he didn’t show up for work. At first, I wasn’t too worried. I thought maybe he just took off for the weekend. Or, also, he’s notorious for breaking his phone, or forgetting to charge his phone, you know, maybe that’s why no one could reach him.”
On Sunday, the California Highway Patrol made an unsettling discovery.
Derek’s GMC Denali pickup truck, Illinois license plate #1242790B, was found parked alongside South Highway 101 at Milepost 6.70, in Hopeland, California. Hopeland is about 50 miles from the RV park.
“It was parked at an odd angle, his friends told me,” Judy said. “Right away his friends began searching in that area. It’s a steep ravine that slopes down into a stream. A lot of brush and dense areas.”
But there was no trace of Derek.
A missing persons report was filed Monday and the Santa Rosa Police Department along with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office (MSCO) began a full search and rescue for Derek. The sheriff’s office joined because the truck was found just over the county line.
According to a press release by the MSCO, “the MCSO and the CHP searched the area with a CHP helicopter as well as with CHP officers, Sheriff’s Deputies and K-9s. A more extensive search with the Mendocino County Search and Rescue (SAR) team was also conducted using trailing dogs and ground teams.”
But, again, Derek was nowhere to be found.
According to his mother, Judy, Derek’s wallet was left back at his trailer, but his debit card was found inside his truck. His phone has been off since that weekend and has not been able to be tracked. His bank account has not been touched since he disappeared.
Judy noticed that his favorite hat and the Crocs he often wore were missing.
“He was probably wearing that hat. And those Crocs. He loved wearing them,” Judy said. “But he wouldn’t wear the Crocs out in the woods. It would be too difficult to walk through that area where the truck was found. It doesn’t make sense.”
Judy told Dateline she doesn’t think Derek was ever in that area. She said Derek’s friends said the same thing.
“He was a heavy smoker, but when his friends were looking for him, they noticed there were no cigarette butts around the truck or in the general area,” Judy said.
Police told Judy they suspected suicide.
“I don’t think he would ever do that. He seemed so happy when I talked to him. His friends said he was happy. He had plenty of money in his account,” Judy said. “But I’m not saying he didn’t do it, I understand that’s a possibility. But where is his body? If he did it, they would have found him in the trailer or his truck, or near his truck. I don’t know, I just think something else happened.”
Judy told Dateline she fears the worst and believes there is foul play involved in her son’s disappearance.
“Someone did something to him,” Judy said, as she broke down in tears. “He would never just leave us like that, without saying goodbye. Something is terribly wrong.”
Judy said Derek is close to his family, which includes his two younger brothers and his father who works for a construction company overseas in Kazakhstan.
She said the last time they saw Derek was over the Fourth of July holiday when he came home to Arizona to visit the family.
“He was happy to be home. He’s just such a great guy, a good son,” Judy said. “He had a big heart and would do anything for anyone. He loved to be outdoors, loved to hunt and fish. Just enjoyed the simple life.”
Judy told Dateline she doesn’t know what to do or where to go from here.
“Everything is a dead end,” Judy said. “My gut feeling is that something horrible happened and whoever did it dumped his truck in that area. But Derek could be anywhere. There are too many loose ends. All we want are answers.”
Three months after Derek’s disappearance, police said they are continuing to investigate.
“We follow every tip we get,” Santa Rosa Police Department Detective Anthony Turner told Dateline. “But we have no updates at this time.”
Derek is described as being 6 feet 3 inches tall, 290 pounds, with brown eyes, black hair, heavy build with a beard.
Anyone with information that could help find Derek Weidner is asked to contact the Santa Rosa Police Department at (707) 543-3600 or you can leave a tip on the Missing: Derek Weidner Facebook page.