Virgil Bussell Junior, a 52-year-old Hoopa man, was reported missing over two weeks ago when his family found his truck abandoned on rural Deerhorn Road outside Weitchpec, California. Since this discovery, Humboldt County Sheriffs have employed Search and Rescue to find Bussell’s whereabouts. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Activist Jesse Armstrong volunteered to assist Bussel’s family in their search for their loved one. Northern California tracker Kevin Hodges was recruited to scour the site that the truck was discovered to determine what could have happened to Bussell before he disappeared.
As of today, Bussell has yet to be found.
Initially, Bussell’s daughter Alicia Adueno grew concerned because as she said, “It had been roughly about three weeks since he’d been to my house so I kind of had a feeling that something wasn’t right because he always comes to my house.” Virgil’s twin sister posted on social media inquiring if anyone had seen her brother and someone commented they had seen his vehicle on Deerhorn road, explained Audelo.
On March 25, Virgil’s family found the vehicle “parked at an incline with a full load of wood in it, the windows were rolled down, his keys were in there, and the jacket that he always wears was in on the passenger side seat, ” Audelo recounted.
In the preceding days, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office conducted a two-day ground search partnering with the Sheriff’s Special Services Unit, the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Posse and the Hoopa Volunteer Fire Department to comb the densely vegetated area where the truck was located. According to HCSO’s Public Information Officer Samantha Kargas, based on these efforts investigators “have yet to determine whether a crime has been committed.” She added, “We are still investigating whether or not foul play was involved or he left on his own.”
According to Bussell’s daughter Alicia Audelo, after these initial search efforts,“We haven’t had any law enforcement help with searching since.”
Since going public with her father’s disappearance, Alicia Audelo was contacted by an anonymous individual demanding a ransom for the return of her father. Via text message, the anonymous individual claimed to be a “fugitive, human trafficker, drug trafficker” who was holding Bussell. The individual demanded $7,000. If the demands were not met, the individual threatened, “I WILL [kill] HIM AND DROP HIS LIFELESS BODY OFF THE ROAD”. Audelo believes the author of the ransom texts “was some sick person that was trying to scam me to get [money] but the local sheriff’s office didn’t even read them and at least try to assure me that they could try and trace to find this person.”
To incentivize members of the public to come forward and offer information about her father’s whereabouts, Audelo has created a GoFundMe to raise money for a reward. The GoFundMe’s description says the funds will go towards reward money and funding search efforts including hiring a professional tracker and helicopter search services.
Saying that they’ve been left without support from law enforcement, the family has been collaborating with Humboldt County local Jesse Armstrong to assist in determining the fate of Bussell. Armstrong describes himself as “a missing and murdered indigenous women and men’s activist” who hopes to “shake things up” in communities prone to silence by assisting families in finding answers.
Armstrong traveled to the site where Bussell’s truck was found and located a grove of fallen trees where he believes Bussell cut wood. He says the wood there is the same type of wood found in the bed of Bussell’s truck.
According to Armstrong, conversations around the Witchepec community suggest three to four suspects are involved with Bussell’s disappearance. He said that the suspects are drug addicts who might have grown aggressive when they found Bussell cutting wood off of Deerhorn Road.
Armstrong recruited Kevern Hodgin, a Northern California tracker who has helped families find loved ones, to analyze the site where the truck disappeared. According to Armstrong, Hodges saw signs of a physical struggle near the grove where Bussell was felling trees and parallel drag marks from there indicating a body was dragged. The tracker reports being able to track the drag marks to the home of a person the family considers a suspect. Based on these findings, Bussell’s family is fearing the worst.
His daughter Alicia Audelo said she fears “that my Dad was murdered and his body was hidden.”
HCSO has yet to assign a lead detective to the case. Kargas explained, “The case is in our criminal investigations division. There’s not a lead detective on it just yet, our lieutenant is working on it and is going to be assigning someone. He is doing a review over the initial investigative work that’s been happening.”
Kargas discussed some of the impediments investigating Bussell’s disappearance: “The difficult part about this case is the timeline is so long ago…[i]n terms of being able to find somebody in a search and rescue situation. No one had heard from Mr. Bussell in about 1 to 3 weeks. We’ve heard varying stories about people thinking they had seen him. We don’t even have the last known location for him. That definitely makes the case difficult…however it doesn’t make the case cold. We are definitely still investigating. We need the community’s help to let us know if they’ve seen him or if they have any information regarding his whereabouts.”
Virigl Bussell Jr. is a Native American male, 5 feet 8 inches tall, approximately 180 pounds, a short mohawk style hair cut with a goatee and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans and work boots.
Bussell Jr.’s daughter Alicia Audelo said her father often goes by “Uppity” or “Buscat”. She also provided some of her father’s notable physical characteristics: “He has tribal tattoos on his arms and on his chest, he is graying on his face and on his head. On his right upper arm he has “BUSCAT” tattooed and a noticeable lump on his forehead.”
HCSO’s Samantha Karges asks that “anyone with information regarding Bussell Jr.’s whereabouts should contact the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.”
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