Page 2 of 6
Instead, Fuksa fled.
On July 19, 2009, three days after the Explorer was tagged, Fuksa's parents, Todd and Starla, filed a missing-persons report with the Olathe police. The following Friday, they drove to Douglas to retrieve the car they'd bought for their son in high school. At Thompson's direction, they examined it for clues about their son's destination and well-being. They discovered the car in eerily good shape, as if Fuksa had just parked it a few minutes earlier. There was no blood or signs of struggle. But there were clues that he had been prepared for a long retreat. Clothes had been tossed around the rear of the Explorer as though he had sorted through them in a hurry, deciding what to take and what was expendable. His laptop was in the backseat, covered with clothes to obscure it from the view of passers-by.
Starla Fuksa says what shook her was the sight of something else her son had left behind.
"His gummy worms," she says. "He always had gummy worms in his pockets. I thought it was weird that he would leave them there."
A few other things in the car confounded the Fuksas. Bradyn hadn't taken his Carhartt jacket, for example — a sturdy garment that he usually didn't go without.
"He didn't take anything warm," Starla says, recalling that Bradyn had also left behind thermal underwear. She says her son knew to pack for cold in prairie and mountainous regions, even in July. "We had been in Colorado the summer before, and it snowed. He had extra clothes and he didn't take those."
The '96 Explorer has a keypad for entering a code to get in without a key. Bradyn, Starla says, feared losing his car key, so he left the key beneath the driver's-side floor mat, always using the code to unlock the car when he returned. When Todd and Starla unlocked the Explorer and saw the key in its usual spot, they understood that Bradyn was sending them a message. He appeared to have left the car as a tidy package, not wishing to cause any further problems.
"There was certainly no indication of foul play," Thompson says. "Almost as if he was intentionally leaving it there to be found, so his parents could have it back."
Inside the car, Starla found what would be the first solid clue in her son's disappearance. It was a receipt from an auto-repair shop in Wheatland, Wyoming, about an hour south of Douglas. A tow driver later told police that he had fixed a tire for Fuksa on the morning of July 16. Fuksa paid the man for a used tire and set off again, but he drove only about another hour. By noon that day, the highway patrol had stickered the abandoned Explorer, having missed him by only an hour and 15 minutes.
After locking his car, which had plenty of gas and a fresh tire, Fuksa appears to have turned off his cell phone and walked alone or hitchhiked farther into the Cowboy State. All he had with him, his family believes, was a small blue Nike duffel bag, the Dockers boots on his feet, a pocket knife, and his parents' 9 mm Beretta handgun that he helped himself to shortly before driving west.
In photos that the family placed on "missing" fliers, Fuksa is a tanned, muscular young man with a pristine smile and close-cropped hair. (Starla usually cut her son's hair.) His mug shot, however, shows a different man. With a gray bib draped over his shoulders and chest, Fuksa is waxen, with sallow lips and eyes wide in seeming disbelief about where he has ended up.