CLE ELUM, Wash. — What started as a search for a missing hunter has turned into a criminal investigation.
For the 9th day, family, friends and law enforcement searched the dense woods north of Cle Elum for Ian Eckles, 41, of Kent.
Law enforcement officials believe the person who abandoned Eckles' truck deep in the woods north of Cle Elum may have the key information needed to find him.
On Tuesday night, the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office was in pursuit of a suspect wanted for two counts of vehicle theft, including Eckles' missing truck. The suspect is also accused of burglary, but the sheriff's office could not confirm if he was wanted for Eckles' disappearance.
On Wednesday, authorities identified the man they are searching for as Jorge O. Alcantara-Gonzalez, 34. He was last seen fleeing on foot Tuesday in the Mineral Springs Campground and was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and khaki pants, according to the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office.
Alcantara-Gonzalez is wanted in connection with a missing person, stolen vehicles and multiple burglaries and thefts in Kittitas County. He is possibly armed. He was described as heavy set, with a chubby face, round nose and short cropped black hair. The sheriff's office also posted Alcantara-Gonzalez' photo.
Alcantara-Gonzalez may also be in possession of a red MSR brand ‘Hubba Hubba’ model dome-style tent with red poles and a light grey rainfly.
Authorities ask anyone who sees this subject or anything suspicious, they are asked to immediately call KITTCOM at 509-925-8534, or dail 911.
Authorities near Cle Elum are actively working to detain the person seen in Eckles' truck, but do not have anyone in custody at this point.
“It is our feeling that the most likely way for us to find out where Mr. Eckles is is to contact the person that was in possession of his vehicle,” said Inspector Chris Whitsett of the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office.
Kittitas County Sheriffs Office alongside ten other agencies, including the FBI, are running two searches at once.
One is for Eckles, who was reported missing by family on May 18 when he didn’t return from hunting trip north of Cle Elum. The second search is a manhunt for a suspect who officials say was seen driving Eckles’ Toyota FJ Cruiser in the days after Eckles’ disappearance.
“No leads on Ian at this point. Based on everything we’re seeing we really don’t expect to find Ian. It’s very hard,” said Dan Linn, a longtime family friend.
Friends and family, mostly from the Portland area, have searched the surrounding area for nine straight days. A man they say loved the outdoors had recently become a grandfather.
“He’s got a grandkid at home, that’s what he was looking forward to. He was out there for turkey,” Linn said.
Search crews will continue to navigate the thick woods – hoping for any sign of Eckles and any sign of the man who may know more.
If you have any information you are asked to contact investigators Sheriff Clay Myers, 509-925-8534 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.