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Trailside memorial ends missing man saga

By Hoyt Elkins

The Union Democrat

About two dozen close friends and acquaintances of Kurt LeBlanc joined hands with his parents in a farewell ceremony at 7:30 p.m. last Friday, 36 years to the minute from the time of LeBlanc's birth.

A circle of stones was created in a wooded grove not far from the location where two youthful hikers found a human skull and arm bone last month. DNA tests are pending, but Le Blanc's parents are convinced they are the remains of their son.

A place in the circle was reserved for LeBlanc's guitar, symbolizing his presence at the ritual.

The bones were found June 12 by Ryan Oddo and Dylan Renn who attended the memorial. They made the discovery as they hiked just off the Lodgepole Trail, which parallels Highway 4 between the Bear Valley Ski Area and Bear Valley Village below.

A sweatshirt with "Maine" emblazoned on it, which had been given to LeBlanc by his grandmother, and a Las Vegas Public Library coffee mug found with the bones, helped identify the remains. He had worked at the library after being laid off by Dell Computer in Las Vegas.

LeBlanc was last seen Dec. 21, 2005 leaving work as a ski area lift operator.

For about a week before his disappearance, he had lived in a Bear Valley condominium owned by his father, Richard LeBlanc of Orinda. The elder LeBlanc arrived at the condo two days after the younger LeBlanc was last seen. But, assuming his son was with friends, he didn't become worried enough to report him missing until New Year's Eve.

Authorities searched near LeBlanc's condominium and in the nearby woods, but found nothing helpful and no signs of foul play. Several false leads including reported sightings in the San Joaquin Valley and an e-mailed threat by a friend of the younger LeBlanc's ex-girlfriend, were more misleading than useful.

Alpine Deputy Ed Braz, who investigated the disappearance from the outset, says his effort was thorough, considering "the time frame that it was reported in, and given the leads and clues."

LeBlanc's mother, Linda Pulliam, drove 400 miles to Bear Valley from her home in Eureka when she learned that skeletal remains had been found. She questioned the quality of the official investigation noting that it had been "two winters and two snowmelts" since her son was reported missing. She conceded, however, that snowy conditions at the time of his disappearance were contributing factors.

During the ceremony, she thanked Alpine County authorities for helping her and Kurt's father "get through this ordeal, despite the chaos surrounding the early days of the investigation."

Speakers took turns recalling LeBlanc's perpetual smile and sometimes erratic behavior, which, some implied, may explain why he decided to follow a rough, wooded trail home on a drizzly day with low visibility rather than waiting for a ride.

LeBlanc's father recalled his son's glee as a child discovering he could go airborne on skis.

His mother recalled a 10-year-old Kurt on crutches from a skiing accident, hobbling around the kitchen on her birthday while she slept. He got up early to create a giant pancake and handmade decorations for her.

"He loved music, he loved doing things for me with his own hands, and he loved nature – he felt completely comfortable with nature," she said. "That may be the reason he decided to set out on the trail as he did."

Investigators have very little evidence on which to base a cause of Kurt's death. They say they may never know whether he was attacked by an animal or lost his way and died of exposure or some unknown or unknowable natural cause.

Contact Hoyt Elkins at helkins@ uniondemocrat.com or 736-4092.

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