When Ronald Kirk disappeared in Red Rock Canyon in January, people who knew him and some who didn’t gathered by the hundreds to scour the conservation area calling his name.
Hikers on the ground and helicopters in the air spent hours then days searching for the missing 46-year-old, but every effort to find him came up empty.
Kirk’s body was finally found by happenstance on Saturday in rocky area with established trails running through it, not far from one of Red Rock’s most popular challenges, Turtlehead Peak.
Rescue workers had already searched there but failed to spot the remains in plain sight.
Las Vegas police spokesman Bill Cassell isn’t surprised by that at all.
Even experts specially trained to find people missing in the wilderness can walk right by their targets without ever knowing they were there, said Cassell, a veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department’s search and rescue team.
Cassell said Kirk’s body was "not obscured in any way," but it blended in with the color of the surrounding terrain.
"It was the perfect camouflage," he said. "The rocks and terrain hide people very, very well out there."
The Clark County coroner’s office used dental records and help from Kirk’s family to positively identify remains on Tuesday.
The dead man’s brother, Darrell Kirk of Seattle, said Sunday he suspected the worst when the keys to Kirk’s Jeep were found with the body.
The coroner’s office has not released a cause of death, but foul play is not suspected.
Cassell declined to pinpoint the exact location of the remains but said they were found in the vicinity of Turtlehead Peak and Sandstone Quarry but not along the most heavily used trails there.
The steep, five-mile trek to the top of Turtlehead Peak is one of the most popular difficult trails in Red Rock Canyon. On sunny weekends, the parking lot for the trailhead and Sandstone Quarry frequently fills to overflowing.
Hundreds of Kirk’s friends and family members searched a 16-square-mile swath of the recreation area after his red Jeep Wrangler was found by a running buddy on Jan. 23 in the parking lot at Calico Basin.
The disappearance of such an experienced hiker and trail runner attracted considerable media attention in the valley.
Cassell said rescue workers and volunteers "put out a tremendous effort" to locate Kirk, but there are times when the terrain thwarts even the most experienced and well-equipped search teams.
It’s happened to him.
Cassell said he has been standing within 15 feet of a body but never spotted it — and probably never would have — until a helicopter circling overhead told him exactly where to look.
"They said, ‘Go 10 feet that way,’ and there the victim was," he said.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350.