The family of a young geologist missing in Arizona since June after leaving a work site have hired their own private investigator and believe his car - recovered in July with his phone, wallet and keys intact - was dumped in an effort to stage the scene.
South Carolina native Daniel Robinson, 24, graduated from the College of Charleston two years ago with a major in archaeology and moved to Arizona after landing a job with Matrix New World Engineering. He was with a coworker at a well site near Buckeye, Arizona on 23 June and heading to what the other man thought was the main road.
Mr Robinson, however, eventually headed farther west into the desert and has not been heard from since. His family back in South Carolina quickly became concerned because the recent college graduate regularly checked in with his parents and siblings.
Relatives began “constantly calling, pleading with him to call us back,” his father, David Robinson, told The Independent. “We didn’t know what was going on; we know Dan does not ignore his phone calls.”
He added: “I can imagine his phone ringing, ringing, ringing for I think almost a day – and then finally I guess the phone died or somebody cut it off. After that point, it goes straight to the voicemail.”
The geologist is described as a 5’8 Black man weighing 165 pounds with black hair, brown eyes and a distinctive characteristic; he is missing part of his right forearm, including his hand.
The 24-year-old was reported missing to Buckeye Police Department on the same day he was last seen – and his vehicle was discovered by a rancher in a ravine on 19 July, around the same time his father decide to retain his own PI.
When police first called about the vehicle’s discovery, Mr Robinson told The Independent, “my initial thought was that I was going to hear something horrible.”
Police showed him photos and explained the condition of the 2017 Jeep Renegade, which seemed to have landed on its side. The geologist’s clothes were also bafflingly found at the scene.
“That was a bittersweet thing,” Mr Robinson told The Independent. “I was feeling great that I didn’t find out my son was deceased or something. At the same time, I ended up not having my son at all.”
He shared details of the vehicle’s recovery and the black box GPS data retrieved with his private investigator, former police officer Jeff McGrath, introduced to him through an attorney acquaintance.
According to Mr Robinson, the data shows that his son’s vehicle got into multiple accidents after the young man’s disappearance.
“My son’s first initial crash is four hours after he went missing,” he told The Independent. “Something happened. Also there’s some paint transfer from the vehicle. I feel like something happened there ... that we just don’t know yet. We just can’t get a full answer – and from there we don’t know where the vehicle was taken.”
He said the car was found around two miles from the work site his son had visited – but insisted the area had been searched to no avail before the vehicle was discovered on 19 July.
“It was returned to an area near where we were searching – my theory would be maybe to ty to throw us off,” he told The Independent.
“Buckeye Police Department, they did a search, they didn’t find a vehicle – and also my search team had been out there; they hadn’t seen the vehicle,” said Mr Robinson, who is former military.
He added: “The vehicle wasn’t there and all of a sudden appeared there ... I feel like it was dumped. My family and I, we all feel the same way.”
There was no blood found in the car, and a police spokeswoman told The Independent that no indications of foul play had yet been uncovered.
Carissa Planalp, Buckeye PD’s public information officer, said experts were continuing to analyse the evidence and data taken from the geologist’s vehicle – emphasising that solving his disappearance remained a priority for the department and wider community.
“The police department has not only used all of its resources to try to find Daniel, but we’ve also leaned on other partner agencies like the Phoenix Firebird helicopters, civil air patrol, cadaver dogs ... we flew a drone over the area. Hours and hours of manpower, boots on the ground searching for Daniel,” Planalp told The Independent.
The search did yield a human skull, she said, which had been ruled out as belonging neither to the missing geologist nor another local who’d vanished.
She said: “At this point, we are still analysing data that was pulled from Daniel’s Jeep that was recovered – so we’re still analysing that and we’re reaching out to some outside experts to take another look.
“We know the family is desperate for answers. So are we – and we’re super committed to finding him.”
The 24-year-old’s disappearance, she said, is “a conversation every day.
“This case is such a priority, and there’s so much importance on it ... We’re looking for any information from the public – and the public has really come out in a big way through searches and through providing information that’s been so helpful. But we need more. We need more information.”
The missing man’s father told The Independent that he felt authorities could have begun more extensive searches earlier – and he was “upset” at how the case had been handled so far, particularly in the wake of other high-profile missing persons cases in the West and Southwest this summer.
“I started researching Arizona, and I realized ... there’s a lot of missing cases here,” he told The Independent. “Because of the way the Buckeye Police Department was handling my son’s case, I kind of understand why. Time is of the essence – and if you don’t move fast enough, you may not ever find the person.”
He said the personal theory he is sticking to steadfastly is that, “somehow, God’s going to bring my son back alive.”