The park has scaled back both of the extended searches it’s been conducting – one for Derek Leuking, missing since March 15th, and the other for Michael Cocchini, whose abandoned car was found in the park on March 20th.
Despite having up to 60 searchers involved in the effort for almost a week, search managers have not found a single clue that they can conclusively tie to either man. Without any concrete leads to pursue, search managers have concluded that it's no longer productive to continue such intensive efforts. Both operations will therefore be scaled back to limited searches. The intelligence gathering portion of the investigation will continue and rangers will be available to follow up on any leads or reports of sightings that may surface either inside the park or beyond its boundaries. The park will also continue to disseminate information about the missing men at trailheads and high-traffic areas in hopes that one of many spring break visitors who will be in the park will come upon a clue or see one of them.
If you've followed both of these cases closely you may have noted a few strange details along the way.
Park spokesman Bob Miller was recently quoted as saying that "despite having 60 people out there, we haven't found anything that indicates either of them was anywhere other than their cars. We don't want to give up, but we've pretty much exhausted what we can do."
No clues or even a warm trail - despite using tracking dogs during both SARs.
Oddly, there was a note inside Derek Leuking's vehicle that asked that no one look for him. We've also found out that Leuking was a fan of Bear Grylls, leading to some speculation that he may have wanted to imitate the “Man vs. Wild” survival show. There are reports that he may have also carried survival gear with him, however, he didn't bother to take the sleeping bag or the tent that he purchased just prior to his disappearance.
Leuking was not known to be despondent or upset, but he did disappear roughly one
year after the death of his grandfather, whom he was very close to. He actually inherited the truck he was driving.
There were reports that Michael Cocchini, the second missing person, was despondent. However, officials also said they had heard reports that Cocchini might have been in Gatlinburg, which is close enough to walk or hitchhike from where his car was parked - about a mile south of the Sugarlands Visitor Center.
In both cases, officials seem to be dealing with conflicting clues and details. Did both men try to disappear without a trace? Was their ultimate goal to commit suicide and leave no trace so that no one could find their bodies? Or, is it possible that a hoax is being perpetrated?