More than a year has passed since Michael Bryson went missing in the Umpqua National Forest, but his parents, Tina and Parrish Bryson, are no less determined to find him.
They described the past 14 months as an emotional roller coaster, with highs when they get new information and lows when the tips fizzle out.
“There are days where we are on top of the world because things are going really well and then all of a sudden you plummet down to the bottom,” Parrish Bryson, Michael’s father, said while sitting at a table in his home near Junction City.
Michael Bryson was 27 when he went missing Aug. 5, 2020, during a party at Hobo Campground, which his parents described as a rave.
He was last seen by his parents on Aug. 3, 2020, when he stopped by their house before riding up with a friend for a weeklong birthday party and camping trip at the campground, according to Parrish Bryson.
Michael Bryson wandered away from the campsite at around 4:30 a.m., Lane County Sheriff’s Office reported at the time.
The sheriff’s office still has a detective assigned full-time to the case and has been working it on a “near-daily basis,” but there hasn’t been any major progress, Sgt. Thomas Speldrich said.
“At this point, it’s still pretty static, there’s not a whole lot of new developments,” Speldrich said. “Any leads as they come in have been worked. Unfortunately, none of them have provided the information that we need to locate him.”
Bryson left his camping gear at the campground and his phone had been powered off for several days, the sheriff’s office said the week he went missing.
Asked if investigators think there was foul play involved, Speldrich said they aren’t ruling it out.
“We’re certainly open to the possibility that there was criminal action, and we haven’t had anything that has led us one way or the other at this point,” he said.
In December 2020, following up on a tip, the sheriff’s office found multiple items of clothing in the woods Bryson was last seen wearing, according to Parrish Bryson. He was skeptical about the tip and said he thinks the items were planted by someone.
At least three times per week, Parrish said he is out following tips from community members, which sometimes means driving into the woods in the middle of the night, only to find animal bones, a deer carcass or an area he already investigated.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone and checked out bones,” he said, later noting he’s focused much of his time on finding his son.
Other times those trips can be more helpful, like when he finds people near the area who can tell him something new. While Parrish is out chasing leads, Tina Bryson said she is usually on edge waiting at home.
“It’s like, ‘Is there a body this time?’ every time,” she said.
People who were at the party said after the incident that Michael got upset and left the bus where he was with other partiers.
Bryson’s parents are convinced someone murdered their son, though police have found no evidence of it so far. Tina Bryson also told the Register-Guard she doesn’t believe he walked away.
“That’s just not Michael, he barely ever got upset,” his mother said. “There’s nothing in me that says Michael would have just wandered nonchalantly out of that campground.”
The sheriff’s office declined to comment when asked for details about the party such as whether drugs were present and how many people were there.
“We don’t have anything we are wanting to release at this time,” Speldrich said.
One source of support and motivation that has uplifted Bryson’s family is the Facebook page “Let’s Find Michael Bryson,” which has gained more than 21,000 members. Of those, thousands have helped by printing out search flyers to post all around Oregon and the world.
People offer words of support for finding Bryson on the site, reach out with tips they might have learned and offer stories of how Bryson positively impacted their lives. In one post, a woman said she was at a party contemplating suicide, before talking to Michael made her change her mind.
The group also became a site to support others around the U.S. dealing with missing friends or family, and has regularly posted notices alerting others to keep an eye out for individuals.
The couple also are setting up a nonprofit called the Michael Bryson Foundation, aimed at helping families solve missing person cases and to help advocate for those with mental illness.
Krista Bryson, Michael’s sister who is a clinical mental health and family therapist, has helped by compiling a list of resources for people dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues.
The attention also has led to multiple podcasts focused on analyzing what happened to Bryson, which Parrish said are hit and miss in terms of accuracy.
He ‘didn’t know a stranger’
Close friend Anna Brandt, who met Michael Bryson at the Paradiso Music Festival in 2015, said she viewed him like a brother. Similarly to his parents, Brandt described Bryson as a very friendly person, and someone who “didn’t know a stranger.”
“He was a really good guy,” said Brandt, a 26-year-old who used to live in Eugene but is now in Las Vegas. “He would give the shirt off his back to a stranger, and he had the most infectious smile and laugh that would light up any room he walked into.”
The last time Brandt saw Bryson was the weekend before he went missing, when she went camping with him and her boyfriend.
Brandt talked about how Bryson loved music – he was into electronic dance music. He was planning to DJ at the party where he went missing, according to his parents.
“He was vulnerable, but in the best way,” Brandt said. “He opened up to people in a way that made them comfortable to be their true selves around him.”
Bryson dealt with some drug addiction issues when he started college, his father said, but was doing well recently before going missing, and he was interested in taking classes to become an electrician.
“He was really starting to push more on the right foot,” Parrish Bryson said, describing him as someone who “made everyone laugh and feel good.”
Tina Bryson requested that anyone who was in the area of Hobo Campground around Aug. 3 to 5 to reach out to them or the sheriff’s office at (541) 682-4150, option 1, and reference case No. 20-5286.
Bryson is described as 6 feet 2 inches tall and about 180 pounds, with short brown hair and hazel eyes. He was last seen wearing rainbow crocs, black athletic shorts and possibly wearing a brown corduroy baseball cap, the sheriff’s office said.
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