Nearly a month after 15-year-old Joshua Joo went missing in the Bucks Bar area during a family hike, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office personnel found the Cameron Park teen’s body Thursday morning.
Beginning at 5 a.m., the Sheriff’s Office sent its search and rescue team, as well as its dive team, to conduct another search for Joo near the Cosumnes River Gorge in the Placerville area. The high-water conditions previously slowing the search had declined over the previous day, allowing more areas of the river to be searched. At 10:40 a.m., divers found Joo’s body.
El Dorado sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Jim Byers said sheriff’s personnel have been searching for Joo since May 29, and knew with “almost certainty” that he was trapped in a boulder field in the Bucks Bar gorge area. However, they previously were unable to recover Joo’s body from the gorge due to the dangerously high water level.
On May 29, the Cameron Park teen had been traversing through the area with his family before being separated from the group. He was last seen near the river, according to his sister Grace Joo, 19.
“He was sitting in a rock kind of in the middle of the river eating an apple … and then Joshua said he was going on the other side to explore, which is very much like him,” Grace Joo said. “And so he went to the other side, and somewhere during that time, that’s when it happened. And my mom went back there to tell him that the group was leaving, and when she went back to check up on him, that’s when we found out he was missing.”
Byers said sheriff’s personnel have regularly searched for Joo the past 3 1/2 weeks, but the area they believe he was thought to be was so treacherous that it was physically impossible to bring rescueres there without injuring or killing them.
In my whole career, and I just finished my ninth year of teaching, I’ve never met a freshman so devoted, so driven.
Andrea Sawyer, Joo’s biology teacher and Ponderosa FFA adviser
Joo was a freshman at Ponderosa High School this year, where he was a member of the school’s alpine ski team and treasurer of the FFA program. His family, friends and teachers spoke of the teen’s constant positivity and passion for agriculture.
According to Andrea Sawyer, Joo’s biology teacher and Ponderosa FFA adviser, Joo studied agriculture at school and at home, starting a chicken coop in his backyard to produce and sell eggs. Before entering the ninth grade, Joo sought out Ponderosa High School specifically for its FFA program, and his parents moved from Rancho Cordova to be closer to the school.
“In my whole career, and I just finished my ninth year of teaching, I’ve never met a freshman so devoted, so driven,” Sawyer said.
Jennifer Coleman, Joo’s Spanish teacher, said the teen was the type of person other students flocked to because of his enthusiasm.
Ponderosa High School’s FFA program on Saturday honored Joo at the El Dorado County Fair. Joo had been interested in raising a hog for the market show, and the school donated one of its market swine to be shown and sold in Joo’s honor.
His family was also presented with an FFA jacket that Joo had coveted since joining the organization, complete with embroidery identifying him as the 2016-17 chapter treasurer, a role to which he had been elected recently. The position has been retired in Joo’s honor, Sawyer said, and there will be no student filling it this year.
Grace Joo said the county Sheriff’s Office has been in contact with the family every day, and employed dive teams and helicopters to help with the search. She also remarked on the unprecedented amount of support and outreach from the community.
“We only moved up to this area two summers ago,” she said. “So you can see the impact that Josh had on his school and the FFA program, and that he had so many friends because he got along with everyone. Seeing the community step up in trying to help find him, and sending their prayers and thoughts to us shows that we have support not just from our family and our friends but from the community as a whole.”
In a Sheriff’s Office news release updating the community on the status of the search, the office extended its condolences to the Joo family and asked that people respect their privacy during this time of grief.