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He also was skilled at fishing and had his first taste of camping by his second birthday. Starla says he was creative and determined enough that all he often needed was a string, bait and a hook. "He was MacGyver on fishing poles," she says, laughing.
After high school graduation, when his peers went off to college or careers, Fuksa lingered around his parents' Olathe home. He dabbled for a year at a community college but didn't return. (His dyslexia didn't help.) His dream, his mother says, was to work as a game warden in Montana. He had looked into a training program but never applied.
Fuksa remained a fixture at his parents' house even after he moved out. He often stayed the night before early morning shifts at the store and stopped in during lunch breaks. He spent time with the family's yellow Lab, Katie, whose health was failing. "That was her person," Starla says of the dog's fondness for Bradyn. "A lot of times he would lie on the floor with her and talk to her."
Despite the closeness with his parents, Fuksa had hidden his financial struggles and arrest. They knew he had been short on cash recently, that his hours at work had been cut. With their blessing, he occasionally transferred cash online from their account to his, with a promise to repay them. But Fuksa hadn't told them that he had been late paying rent in June and July. One day shortly before he left, after mowing the family's lawn, Starla asked him if he needed any cash. He said no.
"I said, 'Well, if you need to move home, you can.' And he just laughed at me and said, 'No, Mom, I'm OK.'"
He surfaces. He is in this area," says Linda Curl, who serves lunch at a Salvation Army Community Center in Cheyenne. Curl called Thompson last February, after she'd seen a flier about Fuksa's disappearance. She told him that Fuksa was eating and taking free bread there.
"He was way too clean-cut and way too polite for our people," she says. "He's in line with people that haven't washed their clothes in six months."
Curl first noticed the man whom she says is Bradyn Fuksa because he seemed ignorant of how the free lunch service worked. He came in with another man, she says, and went straight to the serving window for food, bypassing the line. It was a rookie mistake. "He had no clue. I really felt like he had never done that before," Curl says.
Last summer, Fuksa's parents, Thompson, authorities from Converse County and dozens of volunteers had conducted a ground search near the highway. They found no signs of a camp, and no human remains turned up. Authorities concluded that he hadn't stayed in the immediate area. Todd and Starla spent more than two weeks last summer searching and contacting authorities. They got in touch with game wardens, hoping to learn that Fuksa had been cited for fishing or hunting illegally. Neither attempt yielded any solid tips. Thompson also placed Fuksa's dental records and DNA profile in national databases, so that, if he died, his remains could be identified.
Thompson thought Curl's tip was the best yet, though he had doubts about it — more than a week had elapsed between Curl's sighting of the man and the arrival of the Fuksa fliers in Cheyenne. But last month, Thompson obtained a receipt from the same Salvation Army, detailing clothes given to someone who had signed his name "Brad Fuksa." Starla says the handwriting doesn't match her son's, but the signature is similar to his.