West Jordan man dies while hiking in Utah County; volunteer finds missing son with autism

Posted at 11:11 PM, Sep 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-02 00:33:46-04

UTAH COUNTY -- Volunteers helped locate a missing man who has autism in Utah County Saturday morning after the man's father, who had taken the man camping, was discovered deceased in the area Friday afternoon.

Michael Laughlin rode down to safety on a utility terrain vehicle, and Laughlin reunited with family members.

"There`s a lot of really happy people to have Michael back right now," said Sergeant Spencer Cannon, with the Utah County Sheriff's Office.

The search for Michael, 21, was launched Friday evening after his father, 57-year-old Charles "Chuck" Laughlin of West Jordan, was found dead on the trail in the Jacob's Ladder area of Alpine.

"It may be that he just had a medical episode of some kind," Sgt. Cannon said.

He said Chuck had taken Michael on a backpacking trip, as is tradition for the father and son.

"This is a common activity for he and his dad to go backpacking," Cannon said. "This particular area is an area where they do their last of summer backpacking trip."

While Chuck's body was discovered on Friday, the Laughlin family told Fox 13 it was determined that he may have died on Thursday afternoon.

Deputies didn't at first know Michael was even missing, until they called Chuck's wife.

"The first thing that she asked was if her son Michael was okay. We did not know that his son was with him," Cannon explained.

The woman told police Michael is severely autistic and can perform basic functions at his father's directions, but she wasn't sure how he would be in the absence of his father.

Search and rescue, Mounted Posse, an airplane and helicopter launched the search for Michael on Friday. The search was called off for the night once it became too dark to work in the hazardous terrain.

Cannon said Michael was well-equipped for an overnight stay in the wilderness, but they didn't know how he was faring.

"We were worried about what ability he might have to take care of himself," he said.

The search resumed Saturday, and several people came to the area to search independently of the formal search effort.

One group of volunteers found Michael on the trail around 11:30 a.m., and another volunteer gave him a ride to the search area to reunite him with his mother. Michael was in good physical condition when he was found and did not appear to be hurt, Cannon said.

His family said on Saturday that they're thankful and grateful for the search effort for Michael, and that Chuck died doing what he loved, and with someone he loved dearly.