09/14/04 — Search continues for missing student

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Search continues for missing student

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 14, 2004 2:00 PM

There has been a correction to this story:

A series of articles on a man from Goldsboro who is missing in western North Carolina gave an incorrect spelling of the name of a woman whose body was found. The correct spelling is Misty Dawn France.

September 21, 2004

The orginal story follows:

CULLOWHEE -- A search continued this morning for Rosewood High School graduate Joel Esteppe, who has been missing since Thursday from a hiking trip in western North Carolina.

The body of a hiking companion was found Saturday by a waterfall.

The Citizen-Times in Asheville reported that Esteppe was presumed to have drowned at the same waterfall.

Esteppe's parents, Jeff and Claresa Esteppe, recently moved to Lenoir City, Tenn. Esteppe's sister, Erin, died two years ago at age 18. She was also a Rosewood High School graduate.

Western Carolina University spokesman Bill Studenc said this morning that he has heard nothing new from the command center about 15 miles from campus where people are searching for Esteppe, a freshman engineering technology major at the university.

The Jackson County Rescue Squad said that between 60 and 125 people have been searching since Friday night. Divers, underwater cameras, boat crews, helicopters, drag teams and swift-water rescue teams have been used.

University officials were cautioning students again this week about the dangers of mountain waterwaysbecause of a threat of rising water from Hurricane Ivan.

"Western North Carolina's river system can be very difficult and very dangerous, especially during periods of severe weather," Studenc said. "When we have large amounts of rainfall like we received from the remnants of Hurricane Frances last week, the water level in rivers and creeks can rise very high, very fast, and without warning. We want our students to be careful out there. We don't want another accident."

Esteppe and another 19-year-old student, Misty Dawn Frances of Jacksonville, left campus Thursday at 7 p.m. to go hiking at Paradise Falls, a spillway that flows into Bear Creek Lake.

They became missing during a storm caused by the remnants of Hurricane Frances. A search for them began Friday night, and the body of Ms. Frances was found Saturday morning near the waterfall. She was a sophomore elementary education major.

Capt. Steve Lillard of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department told Ellison that authorities are uncertain about the exact cause of the accident or whether high waters from the storm played a role.

This is not the first time WCU students have died after visiting waterfalls in Jackson County. Two students were killed in 1997 after falling from Cullowhee Falls, also known as High Falls, in southern Jackson County.

"The hearts of the entire university community are heavy at the news of the accident involving two members of the Western family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of both students," WCU Chancellor John Bardo said in a prepared statement. "I encourage the members of the campus community, especially those who know these young people, to pull together and support one another during this difficult time."