A year after his son vanished there are still few clues, but this father is scouring the Arizona desert to find answers: 'I do have faith'
- Daniel Robinson was last seen in Buckeye, Arizona, in June 2021.
- His father, David, has been on the ground looking for him ever since.
David Robinson has one goal — to find Daniel.
"My son is my mission," the Army retiree told Insider. "We learned in the military that you never leave a fallen comrade."
"My friend is my son, and I'm not leaving him behind," he added.
Daniel Robinson, a 24-year-old field geologist, was last seen June 23, 2021, leaving his job near Sun Valley Parkway and Cactus Road — 50 miles southwest of Phoenix — driving a 2017 blue Jeep Renegade. He was testing groundwater at a site in an isolated region of the desert.
After getting the news of his son being reported missing, David swiftly drove just over 2,000 miles from his home in South Carolina to Arizona.
"One of the things is that I try to stay focused on my son, I took those skills from the Army and applied them here, and it helps me out to stay strong," he told Insider in a phone interview.
David has also hired his own private investigator, recruited volunteers, and created a website to help conduct searches in the vast areas of the scorching desert. He also continues to distribute flyers nationwide in a wide-ranging effort to find and hopefully reunite with his son.
He was able to execute this, he said, despite what he feels is a lack of initiative from law enforcement and his own limited resources.
"My day-to-day is constantly trying to find a way to find my son, constantly trying to find a way to get police more involved," David said. "Just different things — how to keep awareness, and also, I became passionate about other families out there and how to help them."
Have you seen Daniel?
When David first moved to Phoenix, Arizona, he realized that cost of living and the equipment needed to conduct his search operations were costly.
He started a GoFundMe, which he said has helped ease the financial burden during his journey.
To date, the fundraiser has raised just over $300,000.But, his social media channels, his podcast and the website dedicated to Daniel have been some of the most useful tools. Tips have helped him learn about the city and gather volunteers to scour the area near where Daniel went missing.
David said he alone spent 40 weeks — nearly every weekend — combing through the desert using many of the leads he has received.
He said the volunteer group also executed searches — with a detailed safety brief before entering the sometimes rough terrain.
Volunteers are told to take a photo and upload it to his website if they see anything suspicious.
"There's a link there, they can click on and pulls up their camera, they take a picture, and when they do that, we get a GPS coordinate, and it goes straight to the Buckeye Police Department," he explained."A copy goes to me and also my investigator."
He added, "Those are the ways we were able to get people involved as well as we get out the information that anything we found out there to the proper authorities."
In the beginning, everything was happening fast. David received a slew of leads from the general public that even led him to different cities when people reported potential sightings.
His private investigator, Jeff McGrath, told Rolling Stone last year that they uncovered several human remains that weren't Daniel's. David also said the desert search for Daniel has led to the recovery of "close to five or six human remains in the areas we searched" that belonged to other missing persons, Insider previously reported.
A strained relationship with the Buckeye Police Department
David said his relationship with the Buckeye Police Department soured almost from the start.
For instance, Daniel's Jeep was found in a ravine by police with his keys, wallet, and other valuables still inside on July 19 — more than a month after his disappearance. Police, at the time, said there was no indication of foul play.
David, who was notified of the finding a day later, previously told Insider that police made a suggestion that his son "undressed himself totally and walked off naked in a desert to become a monk and join a monastery." This prompted him to hire a private investigator, opting for a second opinion.
A spokesperson for the Buckeye Police told Insider that the department would "continue to investigate every lead, and the case is active."
"In recent weeks, investigators have followed up on new tips provided by the public, investigated a reported sighting, and analyzed additional data from Daniel's phone to verify his activities and movements leading up to his disappearance," the statement to Insider said. "Buckeye police provide regular updates to the Robinson family as we work to locate their loved one."
Per Buckeye Police's investigation timeline, the department said it has conducted both aerial and ground searches and continues to talk to potential witnesses.
Although — from David's point of view — there are disappointments with Buckeye PD's efforts, he said he's building a relationship with other law enforcement agencies.
"I've been working very hard on the ground to secure meetings," he said. "I have some forward movement from other departments and agencies that's just starting to do some things for me."
Throughout his journey, David has grown a passion for helping other families who are in a similar situation as him.
He recently held a "Day of Remembrance" at the Arizona State Capitol earlier this month, which helped families of missing loved ones get together and gave them a voice to tell their story.
'No one is going to miss you except your families'
For many families of missing loved ones, especially those of color, it is more difficult for them to receive the same amount of resources and support to aid during their search.
And the harrowing reality of missing Black people has worsened over the last few years. Black people make up nearly 40% of reported missing people, but only 13% of the population, according to recent data.
They are also not centered in media coverage compared to their counterparts. For David, his son's story started to gain traction amid the Gabby Petito case, which made national headlines last year. He said it took him three months since his son went missing to get any attention from local news.
"It's a real sad fact that law enforcement and the media, they take some cases less seriously than others," Natalie Wilson, co-founder of Black and Missing Foundation Inc., told Insider. "The perception is that when you're Black and brown, and you vanish, no one is going to miss you except your families."
But during the times when the cameras stop rolling and the news interviews come to a halt, David said he would continue to use social media and his podcast to his advantage.
He has yet to grieve his son's disappearance since he's been on the frontline working on getting answers. The father of five leans on his faith to remain stoic for himself and his family, although he admits that it has been emotionally taxing.
"Sometimes people ask me why I'm the one here on the ground, and I tell them...everybody handles pains differently," he said. "I'm able to relay some updates to family, some encouragement and things like that. They encourage me, and I encourage them as well."
He continued, "I do have faith that somehow, God will bless that my son will come back home to his family, he'll come back to us. I always try to keep hope alive with that."
Anyone with information related to Daniel Robinson is encouraged to call or text (844) 602-0660 with tips. You can be anonymous. You can also contact the Buckeye Police Department tip line at 623-349-6411, or visit www.pleasehelpfinddaniel.com.
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