80-year-old man found after extensive search

Refugio Olivares is found and taken to Temecula Valley Hospital for observation. Courtesy photo

Hemet sheriff’s and rescue team, following a two-day search for a missing elderly Anza man found him cold but safe on Friday, Nov. 22.

The initial investigation revealed that Refugio “Cuco” Olivares, an 80 year-old man, voluntarily left a family member’s residence, in the 568 block of Dickson Way in Anza Nov. 21.

Olivares was described as a Hispanic male, 5 feet tall and weighing approximately 100 pounds, with gray hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing tan pants and gray jacket with a black vest. His family said that he has diabetes, early dementia and a brain injury that was sustained last year.

Social media was flooded with flyers and posts about the search.

Sheriffs conducted searches in the area around the family’s home, employing helicopters, dogs, deputies on foot and on off-road vehicles and drones.

The California Highway Patrol was contacted, and a Silver Alert was activated.

“Several resources were utilized yesterday in search of Mr. Olivares; however, they were unsuccessful in locating him,” according to a sheriff’s representative. “The search resumed this morning in hopes to locate Mr. Olivares safely.”

Sheriff’s search and rescue teams deployed at Hamilton High School in the morning Nov. 22, near the home where Olivares was reported missing.

Mirella Arias posted, “Police units will be in front of Hamilton High School. The units are doing a search and rescue for an elderly man lost near the school yesterday. This is not a school-related issue; it is a search and rescue issue. The units will be setting up in front of the school at 8 a.m.”

Administrators on Anza Crime Watch and Anza Accurate Emergency Alerts posted, “Anyone in the vicinity of Hamilton High School, Mitchell Road and Hill Street, please do a walkabout on your property, check unlocked cars, sheds and outbuildings for the missing elderly man, Cuco. If found, please call 911 immediately. Sheriffs are out in force continuing to search.”

The community engaged – sharing information, flyers and voluntarily searching the area.

A family member said, “This is a sick older man that has dementia. If anyone could have given him a ride into town, please let us know. We will not be mad; we just want to make sure he is not out in the cold.”

Some rumors circulated, but all in all, the information shared on social media was accurate and useful.

Then it was posted that he had been found in Perris. It was quickly determined that the man that was found was not Olivares, but another missing, at-risk man with a similar name.

Johnathan Schmidt, while working closely with the family, said, “I know there was some excitement that Cuco had been found but after speaking with the sheriff’s department and the local area hospitals and also confirming with his family directly, it was not our missing man from Anza. It was a different man that had gone missing in Perris that they found. The person we are looking for is still actively missing.”

Schmidt opened the Anza Community Hall as a central location for searchers and as a place to pick up paper flyers and updates.

“While the Hall board was not actively involved in this search with boots on the ground, we did try to accommodate as best as possible by making the Hall available for a warmup and meeting place where searchers and family could grab a coffee and a snack. We also became friends with the family and became a point of contact as well,” Schmidt said.

Good news exploded on Facebook Saturday, Nov. 23. Olivares had been found alive.

He returned to a familiar place, was noticed and was picked up by family. He told them he slept in the mountains of Anza, Schmidt said. It was very cold for two nights but the 80-year-old man survived.

“The family wanted to send their heartfelt thanks to everyone in the community who either helped search, pass out flyers or shared online posts. They do not do Facebook but are extremely grateful,” he said.

His relieved family said that he was at Temecula Valley Hospital being checked out.

“He is doing great and now headed home to Mexico, where he wanted to go in the first place,” a family member said.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.