1 year later and still trying to bring Brandon Fitch home

By: 
Marlo Pronovost
Thursday, June 20, 2019
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Courtesy photo

Brandon Fitch and his mom, Sarah.

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Courtesy photo

Brandon Fitch and his mom, Sarah Fitch.

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June 16, 2018, marked the start of a nightmare for Sarah Fitch and her family.

One year later and nothing has changed, as the Fitch family still desperately looks for the body of 20-year-old Brandon.

Brandon was last seen in the early morning hours in Reed Point. Authorities believed that based on initial witness reports, Fitch fell into the Yellowstone River. After countless fruitless searches, Fitch’s family is now stumped as to where their son could be and what happened.

THE DISAPPEARANCE

An immediate search was conducted by the Stillwater County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue (SAR) in hopes of rescuing the man. As the days began to pass, those efforts shifted towards recovery. After approximately one month of official searches conducted by SAR, and countless searches conducted by Fitch’s family, friends and other groups during the last year, his body has not been found.

Authorities presume he is drowned and have currently classified the case as “an open, missing persons case,” said Sheriff Chip Kem this week.

“Our Search and Rescue (SAR) unit thinks of Brandon any time they are on the river and our hope is that we can bring some measure of closure to his family at some point,” Kem said.

A candlelight vigil was held at the Holmgren Fishing Access outside of Columbus Sunday in honor of the year anniversary — an event that Sarah Fitch could not bring herself to attend. The passing of a year has done nothing to ease her pain, or her resolve to find her son’s body. She also continues to live with a lingering sense of “what if…”

The mother wrote this in a Face-book post to those were at the vigil:

“Thank you all so very much for coming to Brandon’s vigil last night. It looked like a lot beautiful faces. Although I could not find the strength to go, I don’t want anyone to think for one second I don’t appreciate you all. You are all very special people to us. Thank you for not giving up on searching for Brandon, what happened to him and not letting him be forgotten. This truly made my heart happy to know how many of you that came. Really! Today marks one year… 365 long days of pure torture, a living nightmare really, and is a hard day for us all, like most days are, but today is just a little harder. It does feel so comforting to know how much everyone cares. Without the support system and caring people we have, we would have never made it this far, especially the ones that don’t give up on us. Thank you all.”

The vigil attendees had a message for her as well.

“We love you and we’re here until the end,” said the group of approximately 27 people huddled together and holding candles.

SOUL-TUGGING STORY

SAR crews responded immediately to the 911 call the morning of Brandon’s disappearance and scoured the river and banks. For the next month, multiple agencies spent days searching riverbanks, the water and by air. Three separate dog teams located an area where authorities believed Fitch went in the water, but divers were never able to explore that spot due to dangerous water conditions and other factors, according to Stillwater County SAR.

After a month, then Stillwater County Sheriff Cliff Brophy scaled back search efforts.

Despite multiple land, water and aerial searches by the authorities and private citizens, nothing has been found.

When the official search was scaled back, the Fitch family ramped up their efforts, bringing in the likes of the U.S. Water Rescue Dive Team based in Billings, the Canadian Canine Search Corps, private pilot Brandon Garoutte and others.

Sarah Fitch was a nearly constant presence, walking the river’s edge every day, looking in dried up channels, monitoring private plane and drone searches, learning about mapping and talking to anyone who would listen and help.

And she is not stopping.

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