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Family of missing Millcreek man expresses gratitude, concern

SHARE Family of missing Millcreek man expresses gratitude, concern
He takes this walk every day. I think in the back of all of our minds, we worry about a day like that. We wonder if he got lost and we didn’t know how bad his memory was. Even then, you’d think a neighbor would see him. It’s baffling he could disappear. – Jacob Hellund

MILLCREEK — Fritz Helland lived on a remote island in his native Norway, with his nearest friend a half hour away by boat.

A gentle and shy man who enjoyed visits from his family and walking his dog, he tended to be reclusive.

"Loneliness doesn't bother him in that sense, but this is unusual," Fritz's son, Jacob, said Monday. "We miss him."

Fritz Helland's family has been in the limbo of the unknown since Friday when they realized that their father and grandfather may not have returned home after taking his customary walk with his beloved miniature doberman pinscher Wednesday. Around 3 p.m. Wednesday, Fritz called one of his two daughters and reported that he was on his way home.

"She waited for him for half an hour," Jacob Helland said. "It should have been five minutes."

The sister routinely takes her father meals. When he didn't return home in a reasonable amount of time after the phone call, she got in her car and drove her father's regular route. Nothing. She tried another road in the area. Still no sign.

"We just don't know anything after that — where he could be," Jacob Helland said.

The 80-year-old man is self-sufficient to the point that he still lived alone. When his daughter didn't find him Wednesday, she wasn't immediately alarmed. It wasn't until Jacob Helland went by the house on Friday and it appeared his father hadn't been home since probably Wednesday that they became worried and called police.

"It's really concerning," Jacob Hellund said. "He takes this walk every day. I think in the back of all of our minds, we worry about a day like that. We wonder if he got lost and we didn't know how bad his memory was. Even then, you'd think a neighbor would see him. It's baffling he could disappear."

Fritz Helland does not have his wallet and it is believed that his phone died Thursday.

More than 1,800 volunteers searched for Fritz Helland Saturday and Sunday, according to Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal. They covered 17 square miles.

"We have been searching the Millcreek area extensively," he said. "We've had a lot of help from officers, from K-9 units, from helicopters and the community of Millcreek that has come out in full force."

Most people who become the focus of an endangered, missing person advisory are found within hours, Hoyal said. The longer Fritz Helland is gone, the more unusual his case becomes.

"It's a very unique circumstance that we're not able to locate him," the lieutenant said. "Our hope was that throughout the process of all those searches, somebody would have found Mr. Helland, but unfortunately not. … We're not ruling out any possibilities."

Jacob Helland said the concern and support of the community has been both moving and uplifting. He is also grateful for the efforts of law enforcement.

"We're doing as well as can be expected," he said of his family. "There's such a mix of feelings. We've got such gratitude and feel so overwhelmed. First, by Sheriff Jim Winder personally being out there walking in the creek bed with us. All of his office, the rest of his officers, the rest of Unified police, the fire department (were there). It was a huge response. Just the personal involvement has been really strong and a blessing to us."

Fritz Helland struggled with the loss of his wife more than a year ago, but his son said he was coping and had not been depressed. The man's short-term memory is "not that good," but Jacob Helland said he thinks his father would have asked for help if he had been desperate.

"I can't imagine he wouldn't say, 'I think I'm lost. I need some help,'" he said. "It's just disturbing. If he was trying to hide from us he couldn't do a better job, but that's not his personality."

Police said the search for Fritz Helland was transitioning Monday. Operating under the belief that the man may have sought shelter given the cold weather that came in Wednesday, Hoyal and the Helland family are asking residents to check their yards, vehicles, sheds and outbuildings for any sign of Helland or his dog.

It is unclear if Fritz Helland and his dog are still together. The dog has a collar with the phone number of one of Fritz Helland's sons on it. It has one ear that flops down and is overweight.

Frtiz Helland is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs about 165 pounds. He has white hair, blue eyes and speaks with an accent. It is believed he was wearing a brown or tan jacket and a gray trapper hat.

No large search effort is currently planned, but those with any possible information are asked to call 801-743-7000.

As the days pass without answers, Jacob Helland became emotional, pausing before speaking about the state of his family. His clear blue eyes, just like those seen in photos of his father, turn wet.

"We're prepared," he said. "We're prepared no matter what the outcome might be. We would just like to find it."

Contributing: Sandra Yi

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam