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Ground search for Gillis mostly complete

Crews focusing on water

March 16, 2012
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

PIERCEFIELD - Friends, family members and other volunteers combed the sides of state Route 3 again Thursday afternoon, looking for any small clue as to what happened to missing 18-year-old Tupper Laker Colin Gillis.

That could be the last time organized search crews cover the area.

"For the most part, we've concluded our land-based search, and the mile radius of Colin's last-known point," John Streiff, a state Department of Environmental Conservation forest ranger captain, told the press Thursday afternoon.

Article Photos

Traffic on state Route 3 is cut down to one lane for part of Thursday as dive teams help search the water of the Raquette River above Piercefield Dam for signs of missing Tupper Lake teen Collin Gillis.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)

As the search gets more technical today, Streiff said his crews are no longer looking for any volunteers to help out.

The search is now focused on the water, with state police divers and underwater cameras searching the Raquette River before and after the Piercefield Dam, as well as forest rangers in rafts and airboats - "although that's not led to any leads at this point," Streiff said.

DEC spokesman David Winchell said this morning that rain will decrease visibility for water patrols, since rain dimples the water's surface.

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Colin Gillis is described as a white male, 6 feet, 1 inch tall, weighing about 170 pounds with blond hair and blue eyes. State police said he was last seen wearing a white shirt with black stripes, blue jeans and red sneakers.

Anyone with information is asked to call state police's Ray Brook headquarters at 518-897-2000.

Searchers also used state police helicopters, joined Thursday by helicopters from the Fort Drum Army base in Watertown, to scour the area, though Winchell said rain and cloud cover this morning would keep the helicopters grounded for at least part of the day.

State police K-9 units and special operations response teams are still involved as well.

"Of course, the lower temperature and wet conditions make things a bit uncomfortable for searchers," Winchell said.

Streiff said the search will continue through the weekend.

He again thanked the community for all the help with the search.

"These searchers are coming out of the woods cold and tired, and they come back to a hot meal here at the Piercefield Town Hall," Streiff said. "That's been phenomenal, and that's been nonstop since the search began."


Police investigation

While DEC personnel continue searching, state police are continuing to investigate anything they can think of that would be involved in Gillis' disappearance.

The teenager had just come home on spring break from SUNY Brockport and was at a party on Paskungameh Road when he left the party on foot. Several people reported seeing him on the side of state Route 3 near the line between Franklin and St. Lawrence counties, where Tupper Lake meets Piercefield.

State police Capt. John Tibbits said they're trying to figure out why Gillis left the party.

"That's a lead that we're following up on right now," Tibbits said.

Police are in the process of trying to construct a timeline of where Gillis was and when, as detailed as they can make it.

They've been interviewing and re-interviewing people who were at the party, who Tibbits said have been very cooperative.

One rumor going around is that Gillis was assaulted at the party.

"That's something that we're following up on," Tibbits said. "We've heard that story, too."

He said police haven't yet ruled out the possibility of foul play being involved in Gillis' disappearance.

Tibbits said the police investigation will continue until Gillis is found.

"We never close the book on a missing persons case," Tibbits said.


Other benefits

Hundreds of people showed up Monday through Thursday this week to help with the search. But as volunteers are no longer needed to search the woods, area residents started to try to find other ways to channel their goodwill for the Gillis family.

The Moonlighters' Snowmobile Club in Long Lake is sponsoring a St. Patrick's Day buffet to raise money to help support them in their search. The dinner starts at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Long Lake Diner. For more information, call 518-624-3941.

Diner owners Jim and Paula Piraino both volunteered in the search this week, as did many other Long Lakers.

Local bartenders Rachel Dechene and Dominique Pickering donated the tips they made Thursday night at P-2's Irish Pub to the cause, and Jim Boucher, who hosted the open mic night there, added his pay and tips to the donation.

A Facebook page created by the Tupper Lake Moose Lodge asks people to light candles and leave their porch lights on to light Colin's way home. Many people say they are doing so and trying to think of other ways to help.

That page became something of a repository for people's prayers and well-wishes for Gillis early in the week, but on Wednesday, Colin's big brother Lyndon Gillis, who lives in Utica but came home to help with the search, created a Facebook group called "Bring Colin Gillis Home." He's using it to communicate with people who are concerned for the family.

He's been asking people to stay positive. And Thursday night, he again thanked everyone for all the help and support.

"Our love goes out to every one of you!" Lyndon wrote.


Boat crash

Thursday was the first day that saw injuries in the search.

Cara Thomas, a YNN television reporter based out of Potsdam, was riding in an airboat on Dead Creek, getting tape for a story on the search, when the boat hit some rocks.

"We went over some rapids," Thomas said. "I don't think we were expecting how bad they were.

"I almost flew over, and they caught me."

Tupper Lake village police Sgt. Sean Stradley, who was volunteering to help with the search on his day off, grabbed Thomas while she was airborne, before she could go over the side of the boat.

But both Thomas and Stradley crashed their legs into the boat, which also took some damage. Both of them got care at the scene.

"They took really great care of me," Thomas said. "They were really great guys on there."

Thomas said she was fine, just shaken up.

Stradley saw a doctor later Thursday, and his partner said this morning he's now out of work on medical leave.

Tibbits said safety is always an issue in searches like this, which is why everyone has to make sure they are getting enough rest.

"You've got to get a couple of hours (of sleep) every night, especially on something like this, because when you get tired, you start to make poor decisions and your judgment's impaired," Tibbits said. "You've got to rest."



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