Mother seeks aid in search for her son

Man vanished in June, on foot, in Mount Hood National Forest

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

Published:

 

Carol Degagne had a special bond with her son, Steven Moline, before he disappeared four months ago under odd circumstances in Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest.

“Almost every night, he’d call me or text me and tell me he loved me,” said Degagne, who lives near Padden Parkway and works as clerk and part-time caregiver for a disabled man.

Moline, 30, a gay man who grew up in Vancouver and had moved to Portland, had a nice smile and personality and was 6 feet 8 inches tall, but he had many problems.

“I would never give up hope that he’d stop using drugs and do something with his life,” his mother said.

He used heroin and methamphetamine, she said, but, she added: “I believe his spirit was always telling him to make a different choice.”

Moline also had epilepsy and was subject to seizures. His shoulders dislocated easily, and he was often tired due to illnesses. He didn’t drive because of the epilepsy and didn’t have a job.

A mother’s love

To Degagne, he also was a handsome, charming, devoted son who liked to paint abstracts and sing, was fascinated by The History Channel and could be fragile at times.

“Steven had a nightmare one night when he was here that someone was trying to murder him,” Degagne said. “I woke him up, he was crying and shaking.

“I told him it was just a dream and he said, ‘No Mom, it was so real.’”

Others were taken by him too.

“He was one of the nicest young men you ever knew,” said a family friend, Sharon Rollins of Vancouver. “He was very gentle and kind and rather timid. He wouldn’t go start a fight.”

But that was then.

“It’s been four months,” Degagne said recently. “It’s pretty exhausting not knowing where your kid is, or what happened to him. I love him very much, and I just want to know where he is.”

The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating and Detective Eric Lee is assigned to the case, said sheriff’s Sgt. James Rhodes.

“We are interested, and we want to find him,” Rhodes said. “He’s disappeared. We don’t have any leads.”

The story that deputies and family members have to go on now is from the driver of a car whom Moline was riding with, on the way to Bagby Hot Springs on June 30. The area had no cell service, Lee said.

The woman said she was lost and low on fuel when she stopped in the mountains, saying she wanted to turn back.

She said Moline got out of the car and said he’d walk to the hot springs, miles away.

“She said she stayed there and honked the horn and begged him to come back,” Rhodes said.

She notified the sheriff’s office late that night, but said she knew her passenger only as Steven, without a last name. She said he said he’d had a recent birthday, or was soon to have one.

Since the driver said her passenger had walked away voluntarily, down a Forest Service road and wearing a backpack in summer, deputies had no cause for alarm then, Detective Lee said.

Moline’s family contacted the Portland Police Bureau to report him missing on July 12, and later were referred to Clackamas deputies, Lee said.

He said officers went to Moline’s home and were told he hadn’t been there for weeks.

So it was July 12 when Clackamas deputies, now in possession of Moline’s full name and birthdate, linked the reports and realized it was Moline who walked away from the woman’s car and disappeared nearly two weeks earlier.

“We didn’t know where he was and we didn’t know if he was in any danger,” Lee said.

Another man who was in the woman’s car confirmed her story, Lee said. A third passenger refused to speak with Lee, saying deputies should have done a search immediately after the woman said he walked away.

On July 16, Clackamas deputies conducted a full-blown search for Moline, using more than 50 people including deputies and several trained volunteer search-and-rescue groups, Lee said. Searchers went on foot and in ATVs and used two dogs from dawn to about 6 p.m.

“They did not find any signs of Mr. Moline,” Lee said.

Moline’s backpack hasn’t been found, either.

Mystery unsolved

These days, police and family members don’t know what happened or where Moline is.

“Maybe he hitched a ride out of there,” Rhodes said.

Missing-persons detectives know it’s not uncommon for people to go missing and later turn up safe.

“That’s not his heart,” Degagne said of her son. “That’s not him.”

Degagne said it’s unlikely that her son walked off because of his health problems, and said he was hardly the athletic hiker.

Even so, If someone is in contact with Moline somewhere, “Please call,” Rhodes added.

The mother also suspects her son met with foul play and has wracked her mind imagining scenarios.

“They believe that crime’s afoot,” Rhodes said of the family, adding, “There is nothing to support that at this time.”

“There’s no evidence that I’ve found of foul play,” Lee said. “We have to go off of what we can prove.”

Someone also told the frazzled family that police might have considered Moline a “bottom-feeder” and, as a result, may have put less effort into the search for him.

“I deny that claim,” Rhodes said. “That’s absurd.”

“We don’t take anything to account of a person’s life or socioeconomic status,” Lee said. “A human life is a human life. Everybody has equal value.”

Mother won’t give up

Stoutly refusing to let it go, Degagne said she and others have gone to the hot springs many times, posting fliers and asking visitors if they know anything.

Now, Degagne has set up a website, http://findsteven.org. The site has a Facebook link and a donation link, and asks anyone with information to call 360-260-4968, 360-270-7409 or 911. The family also has opened a Steven Moline contribution account at any branch of Wells Fargo bank, for those who wish to help find Moline.

Degagne’s hope is to organize more searching by volunteers, perhaps even a certified search-and-rescue group and cadaver dog, to find her son’s remains and any evidence of what happened.

If someone does find possible remains, they should back away without disturbing any possible evidence, mark the spot and notify sheriff’s deputies, Lee and Rhodes said. Such a site would be investigated closely as a possible crime scene, to learn if there was foul play.

The sheriff’s tip line is 503-723-4949.

John Branton: 360-735-4513; http://twitter.com/col_cops; john.branton@columbian.com.