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Missing: A small-town California city manager. Police are scrambling to figure it out

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A small-town California city manager has vanished, and police are scrambling to solve the mystery.

McFarland, a town of 15,000 near Bakersfield in rural Kern County, perhaps best-known for “McFarland USA,” the Disney motion picture about its champion high school track-and-field team, is now the setting for the baffling case of the missing city official.

John Wooner, 57, was reported missing May 14 by his wife, Bakersfield police say. Police say Wooner was driving a city-issued Dodge Durango. His destination: Bakersfield’s Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery where, according to Bakersfield news reports, Wooner told family he was headed to visit his father’s grave.

It was the last place Wooner was seen. Now, Bakersfield police say he is considered missing under suspicious circumstances and are seeking clues into his disappearance, talking to family, friends and co-workers.

Wooner is 57 years old. He stands 6 feet, weighs 300 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes. He wears glasses in official photographs. He was last seen wearing a white dress shirt and khaki pants. Bakersfield police are asking anyone who has seen him to call 911.

Meantime, a stunned McFarland was figuring how to move forward. The city’s interim police chief is sitting in as city manager. A call to McFarland city officials Friday was not immediately returned.

But a “dumbfounded” McFarland Mayor Manuel Cantu told Bakersfield television station KERO last week that Wooner’s disappearance was “out of character.”

Wooner was busy in the days before he disappeared, Cantu told the TV station, with important negotiations for fire protection and schools on his desk.

“It’s not like him ... so it’s very difficult to try to figure out because you don’t want to start thinking the worst, and yet at the same time we want to stay positive,” Cantu told the Bakersfield ABC affiliate. KERO reported cemetery employees confirmed seeing Wooner in a city vehicle about 5:30 p.m. May 14. Cantu added, “But as time goes by, it’s very hard to then process. ... OK, well what do we do in the meantime.”

McFarland city leaders took an initial step Thursday night, The Bakersfield Californian newspaper reported Friday. The City Council placed its city manager on 30 days’ paid administrative leave as Bakersfield police continue to investigate Wooner’s disappearance.

“This is an important business decision for the city so that the City Council and our city employees may continue the business of the city in an orderly manner,” Cantu said in a statement Thursday, The Californian reported.

Police are investigating a “variety of leads and options, and they have more information they’re working on,” Sgt. Nathan McCauley, a Bakersfield police spokesman, told the Bee on Thursday. “We have reached out to family, friends. There’s no clear-cut evidence of foul play, no medical issues. There’s no suggestion he was having issues. There’s a lot of questions.”

Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Keith Cason at 661-326-3868 or the Bakersfield Police Department at 661-327-7111.

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