The following is a press release from the National Park Service relating to an on going search for a missing Ohio man on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. In the last 3 weeks park rangers have dealt with a murder, two suicides, two major wildland fires and other additional incidents just in the Virginia section of the park. All these incidents are adding to the work load of employees as they attempt to prepare for a series of special events to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Search Continues in Rock Castle Gorge
(Patrick County, VA) Ernest G. Brooker, Jr. has been missing and is thought to be in the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area, or the surrounding area. Mr. Brooker is a white male, age 66, about 5’10” tall, and 175 lbs, with hazel eyes and white hair, driving a 1985 white Chevrolet Celebrity with Ohio tags..
“We know a few things”, said Blue Ridge Parkway Chief Ranger Steve Stinnett, “but the location and condition of Mr. Brooker are two unknowns at this time”. We know that he passed through West Virginia on his way from Cincinnati, Ohio on April 13th, we know that he stayed in a motel in Meadows of Dan for four days, we know that he was seen near the Rocky Knob Cabins at the top of Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area over a period of four days ending April 17th. On the 18th his car was noticed by a Park Service employee. A US Park Ranger noted that the car was still there on April 22nd and did not appear to have been moved. Eight Park Rangers, including two trainees from other National park units, initiated a search that day and found items inside the Gorge area associated with Mr. Brooker, at the same time Patrick County Sheriff’s Office began an investigation into the where abouts of Ernest Brooker. Virginia Department of Emergency Management was contacted and various Virginia Search and Rescue (SAR) resources were activated for the following day, April 23rd. Those teams include Commonwealth of Virginia SAR; Angle SAR; SAR Tracking Institute; Carroll County SAR; Rockingham County- Augusta SAR; Black Diamond SAR; Triad SAR; Tidewater SAR; SARTI; and Intermont-Bristol SAR. Members of the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO), Vesta Rescue Squad, Ararat and Woolwine Fire Departments, and the Civil Air Patrol (aircraft utilized to provide radio communication between teams and the command post, located at the Parkway’s Rocky Knob maintenance area). Logistical support is being provided by local agencies and maintenance employees of the Parkway.
On Friday April 23rd searchers began to find items near the trail that had been placed by Brooker. “The items,” said Chief Ranger Stinnett “including edged weapons and indications of a firearm generated concern by the search managers and led to the withdrawal of the civilian teams. The following day only law enforcement personnel were used to continue the search.” Those included officers from PCSO, Virginia State Police and NPS rangers from the Parkway, New River Gorge NSR, Shenandoah NP, and two ranger trainees. In addition Triad SAR provided 3 Bloodhounds. The Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area was closed to the public while that phase of the search was completed.
On Sunday the area was reopened by the Parkway and the civilian searchers returned, along with two canine units. Up to this point in time Mr. Brooker has not been located and plans are being made to continue search efforts with local rangers, as well as rangers from Cumberland Gap NHP, Shenandoah NP, C&O Canal NHP, and a canine unit from the National Capital Region.
Anyone having knowledge of Ernest Brooker is asked to contact the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office at 276-694-3161 or Parkway Emergency phone: 1-800-PARKWATCH (800-727-5928).