09/22/04 — Search scaled back for missing hiker

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Search scaled back for missing hiker

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 22, 2004 2:01 PM

CULLOWHEE -- A search for a missing Rosewood High School graduate continues in the woods of western North Carolina, but it is no longer for rescue.

The family of Joel Esteppe learned last week that the search is a recovery effort now, and the 19-year-old Esteppe is presumed dead.

Esteppe was last seen about two weeks ago when he left the campus of Western Carolina University with another student, Misty Dawn France, 19, of Jacksonville.

They reportedly told friends they were going hiking at Paradise Falls, a spillway that flows into Bear Creek Lake. The two freshmen disappeared. A search began the following day. The next morning, rescuers found the body of Ms. France near the waterfall.

The search for Esteppe has also been scaled back, because many people are needed to help the area recover from Hurricane Ivan, said Capt. Steve Lillard of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

The search resumed Monday and continued Tuesday, sometimes with a boat on the lake, other days walking the edges. Lillard said he doesn't know how many people were looking Monday and Tuesday. He has been busy with Ivan.

"It's not around-the-clock like before the storm," he said. "We will try and search as much as we can."

He said he doesn't know when the search will be called off, because they've done all they can. But he doesn't think that will be any time soon.