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Finding Lucius

Inside the search for a missing University of Montana student

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Jake Gillis knew it. There was something about that stretch of road, that patch of ground. Even though it had been scoured by dozens of volunteers, he kept going back to it.

"One more time," he said.

Climbing into the cockpit of a helicopter with Dave Everson, a pilot from Northern California, Gillis hoped this would be it—he wanted to find 21-year-old Lucius Robbi.

Robbi, a raft guide for Cascade Raft and Kayak, left Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, on Tuesday, Aug. 19. He was on his way to school at the University of Montana in Missoula, but he never made it.

On the afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 28, the helicopter took off with Everson, Gillis and another friend from California known as "Monkey."

The three traced Robbi's possible route to Montana again. They circled around Deadwood Reservoir, checked the areas north of Crouch and, in one final effort, looked closely along Highway 21 from Lowman to Stanley.

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That's when they spotted Robbi's vehicle.

"Monkey kept yelling, 'I found him, I found him, I fucking found him,' and I said, 'Wait, what? Bank right, I want to see this,''' Gillis said.

Sure enough, Robbi's forest-green Subaru Outback lay at the bottom of a 60-foot embankment off Highway 21, only five miles from Stanley. The extent of the impact made it clear his death was instant.

The wreck went almost undetected. Despite search teams comprised of more than 20 of Robbi's friends, and the combined efforts of the Boise and Custer counties sheriff's offices, all combing the area for almost a full week, the wreckage was invisible from the roadside.

"I even had a thought when we were about six miles from that location," Gillis said. "I thought, 'This area had been pretty well covered. Maybe we can just turn around.' But I kept my mouth shut and decided to go all the way to Stanley. There he was."

"What's wrong?"

When Robbi left Horseshoe Bend, he drove off with two bright orange kayaks strapped to the top of his 1997 Subaru Outback. Only a few days after his disappearance, I took my dog for a hike in the Boise Foothills. The night before, I had driven back from Missoula, where I studied at the University of Montana, and, like Robbi, came back with two orange and red kayaks on top of my black Subaru Outback—a 2001 model.

As I descended my usual trail, I saw a police car parked alongside my Subaru, the light bar blinking. My heart started pounding and my face felt hot. Who was in an accident? How did they find my car? What did I do wrong?

My dog hopped into the back while I kept my eyes on the patrol car.

"Jessica?" the officer said from inside. I leaned into the open passenger-side window.

"What's wrong? What happened?"

"No, everything is okay," he said. "It's just that someone saw your car and called it in as the car that fits the description of a missing person."

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"Oh, you mean that kid going to Montana," I said.

It dawned on me that the pictures floating around on Facebook of his missing car looked a lot like mine. The officer and I talked for a few minutes about his disappearance, both of us speculating on what could have happened—both of us at a loss.

I drove home, thinking about Robbi, feeling guilty for giving anyone false hope that he was in Boise. I was stuck on someone mistaking me for the missing man. A man only a few years younger than me. A kayaker like me. A student at the University of Montana, like I was.

And he was lost on a road that I have driven countless times after four years of traveling between Missoula and Boise. I took the boats off my car as soon as I got home.

The rest of the day I spent unfocused on work, following a Facebook group called Finding Lucius, instead. When I joined, the group included around 200 members. Within 24 hours it reached almost 2,000. As of press time, it surpassed 3,300.

"Just waiting to say goodbye"

Robbi, of Orleans, Calif., worked as a guide at Cascade Raft and Kayak for the past two summers. During those summers, he lived at a private campground with the other guides along the bank of the Payette River. He spent his nights in a sleeping bag and became part of the tribe of 20-somethings that guide every fork of the river.

"They're a pretty tight-knit group," said Krista Long, who helps run Cascade Raft and Kayak with her family. "They all camp together, they all live together for the summer. The locals even get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's not just summer camp."

Lucius Robbi’s employee picture at Cascade Raft and Kayak. When he went missing on his way to the University of Montana, most of his fellow raft guides volunteered to help in the search efforts.
  • Lucius Robbi’s employee picture at Cascade Raft and Kayak. When he went missing on his way to the University of Montana, most of his fellow raft guides volunteered to help in the search efforts.

Long was possibly one of the last people to see Robbi before he disappeared. On Tuesday, Aug. 19, around 2 p.m., she recalled checking some clients in for a raft trip.

"And Lucius was standing nearby," she said. "So I said, 'Oh, Lucius, do you need something?' And he said, 'No, I'm just waiting to say goodbye, so finish up what you're doing.' He was waiting, just so he could give me a hug and say goodbye. That's the type of person he is."

The type of person he was, according to his friends and family, was genuine. Someone who made friends with everyone. A goofy guy with a streak of responsibility uncharacteristic for most 21-year-olds. He had just finished junior college and talked for years of living in Montana. He was schedule-driven, paid his own tuition and planned to study his passion in life: outdoor recreation.

That's why it was so strange when he never checked in with his new landlords in Missoula on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 20. It was even stranger when he missed the school's orientation the following day. Stranger yet when his professors marked him absent the first day of classes.

Sydnee Korell, another employee at Cascade and a close friend of Robbi's, noticed Wednesday night when he never called.

"Lucius is the kind of person who, if he says he's gonna call you, he's gonna call you," Korell said. "So I kind of started making jokes like, 'Oh,'Lucius hasn't called me yet. He probably, like, got ax murdered in Montana or something.'"

When Thursday rolled around and there was still no word from Robbi, Korell and other guides started worrying.

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