For 39 days, there was no trace of him. More than a month of long days and longer nights stretched on as summer turned to fall with no sign of the handsome, dark-haired young man who abruptly left his mother’s home on a warm morning in late August and sped off in his red truck, one vehicle among thousands like it rolling down highways across the state.

It seemed as if 28-year-old Ryan Ross Horn had simply vanished.

His family members blanketed communities in three counties with hundreds of “missing person” flyers, hoping someone somewhere would spot Ryan or his truck and call 911. They were certain, or as certain as they could be, that he was somewhere in the Tillamook Forest, parked on a remote logging road or hidden away behind a dense wall of trees. He had been despondent, they said, and perhaps suicidal.

On Oct. 8, the 40th day in their very personal wilderness, they found out they were right on both counts: Ryan’s body was discovered beside a creek in a recessed area near the same gas station he’d driven past on the day he went missing. Police believe he took his own life.

Now Ryan’s devastated family members — who live in Hillsboro, Cornelius and Tigard, as well as other places outside Oregon — are wondering in paragraphs on Facebook and in the privacy of their hearts how they will proceed without their son, brother, uncle and friend.

“My sweet son. My heart aches to see you again, to have one of our talks over morning coffee. I miss you coming down the stairs to say, ‘Hi Ma!’ every day,” wrote his mom, Michele Haynes. “How will life go on, knowing that you’re never walking through that door again to give me a hug?”

Their grief is palpable; their sorrow insoluble. As a reporter, I’ve had the honor and responsibility of writing about the search for Ryan for this newspaper, as well as about the terribly sad news of his untimely death. Yet as someone who 20 months ago was on the other side of the story, I couldn’t bear to leave it at that.

In February 2012, my 32-year-old stepson, Jared, was attempting a solo summit of Mount Hood when he slipped and fell 800 feet into the White River Canyon. After he was reported missing, our family had to wait a day to find out he did not survive.

Because of that sudden loss of someone so young, vibrant and loving — and the agony of even that one day of waiting — I’ve felt intricately connected to the Horn story over the past six weeks and have marveled at the strength his family had to summon while seeing so many suns rise and set without answers.

A couple weekends ago, I spent a few hours hanging up flyers in local businesses, becoming a small part of a much bigger band of folks hoping against hope that Ryan would be found alive. Photos of his sweet face reminded me of little Kyron Horman, still missing from the Skyline area of Portland after three years, and I wondered if resolution would ever come. And then when it did, I wished it hadn’t.

Like so many who’d followed his family’s plight, the news that Ryan was gone socked me right between the eyes. As a reporter, I had to make the phone calls to the coroner, the detective and the family. As a human being who has seen what losing a loved one so abruptly does to those left behind, I had to shudder, and to cry.

I have an idea what Ryan’s loved ones are going through. Time will help shape their heartbreak into softer memories that are theirs alone. There are no words that can ease the hard edge of their pain. For now, all that’s left to them is the void.

To the Horn, Haynes and Bledsoe families: I am so sorry. I wish you peace, and strength, and love.

Contract Publishing

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