March 11, 2012 appears to be the last time anyone saw Colin Gillis. He would have turned 23 this year.
“The Adirondacks is a huge place and the possibility of someone being lost there is not unheard of,” says New York State Police Investigator Jeremy Viele.
Viele says Gillis, a pre-med student, was home from studying at SUNY Brockport the night of his disappearance. After spending time with friends at a house party on Paskungameh Road, he began walking down a dark highway in his small hometown of Tupper Lake, New York.
“The party broke up around 1:30 in the morning,” says Viele.
State police say Colin was last seen walking near the area of Setting Pole Dam Road on Route 3. They say a passing motorist reported a suspicious person to the Tupper Lake Police Department, who fit Colin’s description. Viele says less than 40 minutes later, a state trooper checked the area and found no one.
When Colin did not come home the next day, his family and friends began searching. State police and New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation were called in that evening around 5:30.
“We searched the land, we searched the water, and we searched by air,” says Regional Forest Ranger John Streiff. “Statistically, people usually end up in water and we have a lot of water around here, we have a lot of woods around here, so the interface is challenging.”
An 18-year-old teenager battling the elements and single digit temperatures in those early morning hours of March 11.
“We had helicopters from the US Army from Fort Drum fly this river for us along with state police helicopters so, we had everything going for us except locating Colin,” says Streiff.
Investigators say Colin’s license is the only piece of evidence they have ever recovered, feet away from where he was last seen.
“It’s a mystery, it really is,” says Streiff. “Why does a young man just disappear?”
Tupper Lake Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield remembers Colin when he was a boy, growing up the middle child of three boys.
“He was adorable, he was talented, he was in all the school plays, he wanted to be a doctor and he could’ve been,” says Littlefield. “We see posters still all over town and people talk about Colin and his older brother Lyndon and his younger brother Ian all the time.”
Colin’s mother Patricia and father John own a cabinetry business in Tupper Lake. They are just two members of a family Mayor Paul Maroun says is a beloved part of this tight-knit community.
“Colin’s grandmother started Gillis Realty here in Tupper Lake, she was on the library board, and Bob was on the town board, Colin’s grandfather,” says Maroun. “They’re just the kind of people you want to be around and you want to grow up with.”
Mayor Maroun says he still begins every board meeting with a moment of silence for Colin’s safe return and for the Gillis family.
“You read about these stories, you see that famous cold case hunter on TV, but you just don’t think it’s going to happen in small towns.”
State police have followed up on just shy of 500 leads into the disappearance of Colin Gillis.
“We’ve had them come from across the country from Nevada to Mexico,” says Viele.
Five years later, Patti Littlefield says this small community holds onto the memories it has of Colin, in hopes he’ll one day be found.
“That’s all we pray for.”
Local 44 and Local 22 reached out to members of the Gillis family through New York State Police, including Colin’s parents. Because of how emotional this still is for them, they respectfully chose not to speak with us.