Rico Harris was born on May 19, 1977 to parents Margaret Fernandez, a caregiver for the elderly, and Henry Harris, a semi-professional basketball player. The eldest of four children, his early childhood saw him and his family move around quite a bit, first to Oregon, then to Los Angeles, before finally settling in Alhambra, California upon his parents divorcing. The split was the result of his father’s abusive behaviour.
Growing up, Rico was known for being a gentle giant. He was soft-spoken and shy, yet always had a smile on his face. He was described by friends and family as easy to like and incredibly hardworking, and he saw life as something he could use to help those around him.
Throughout the majority of his life, Rico had a dream of one day becoming a professional basketball player. This passion had been passed down to him from his father, and he also saw the profession as a way in which he could provide a better life for his mother, who struggled to hold down work. In order to pursue his dream, he switched high schools and began to attend Temple City High School, soon joining its basketball team. While in attendance at the school, he was seen as a star player, and in order to keep at his best, he made sure to avoid drugs and alcohol.
Upon graduating high school, Rico attended Arizona State University, which had accepted him despite his poor academic performance. He had had the opportunity to play for several NCAA I basketball programs, but never did due to a combination of academic and personal difficulties. While at the school, he was arrested with two others on suspicion of unlawful imprisonment, but was never charged.
Rico eventually transferred to Los Angeles City College, where he led the team to its first state championship title. After that, he attended Cal-State Northridge, despite interest from high-profile colleges and the NBA. This was a decision he would later be criticized for, as it was seen as him limiting his chances of reaching the NBA.
Upon leaving school, he was hired by the Harlem Globetrotters, with whom he was with for approximately two months before receiving an injury that sidelined him and ended his basketball career. While trying to break up a fight, he had been hit in the head with a baseball bat.
Between 2001 and 2007, Rico faced a total of 16 cases before the Los Angeles County Superior Court on charges spanning from public intoxication and burglary, to trespassing. He also hit was has been described as “rock bottom” and overdosed on prescription medication. After this, he entered rehab at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center and began to build a sober life for himself, holding down jobs and making an income. He managed to stay clean for six to seven years.
For several years, Rico worked private security in LA, which led to him meeting girlfriend Jennifer Song in 2012. Jennifer, an insurance broker from Seattle, Washington, had been in Marina Del Rey, California and met Rico while he was managing security at a nightclub. In order to maintain their two and a half year-long long distance relationship, the pair phoned, texted and visited each other over long weekends.
In 2014, Rico began to talk about the future and wished to marry Jennifer. He had begun to move this things into her Seattle townhouse, a transition that was at first difficult for him. However, upon getting a job selling vacation timeshares, his attitude changed.
In September 2014, Jennifer began to notice a shift in her boyfriend. When she confronted him about this, he admitted that he’d relapsed at the end of July, early August. Rico also shared this information with a friend, and recognized it was an issue he needed to fix.
LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:
On October 8, 2014, Rico told Jennifer that he’d wanted to venture around Seattle, while she went to the gym. When Jennifer returned home at 8:00pm, she saw that Rico wasn’t there and assumed he was still out exploring. Upon texting him, however, she learnt he was actually driving through Oregon, on his way back to Alhambra.
At around 2:00am on October 9, Rico arrived at his mother’s house, which concerned her. She felt as though her son had been drinking, and he didn’t sleep his entire time in California. While there, he took his younger brother out for dinner.
At 10:30pm, Margaret suggested that her son take a nap before heading back to Seattle the next day. However, wanting to arrive back by 7:00pm in order to attend a barbecue with neighbours and a meeting about a possible real estate job, Rico didn’t heed his mother’s wishes and set off.
Around 1:00am on October 10, Rico called Margaret, who hadn’t realized her son had already left. Soon after, he contacted Jennifer, who too was surprised to learn he was already on his way back to Seattle. The pair chatted for approximately three to four hours, during which Jennifer grew concerned for her boyfriend’s state of mind, as by that time he had been awake for nearly 40 hours.
Jennifer eventually fell asleep and upon awaking at 8:00am called Rico, who told her he was near Sacramento, buying gas. Jennifer noted he sounded tired during this call. During the day, Margaret checked in with him, but was unable to get ahold of him the next time she called. Jennifer also tried to call him, but didn’t receive an answer.
At 10:44am, Rico texted Jennifer to apologize for missing her call. Upon receiving the message, Jennifer tried to stay calm, but still found herself worrying. After this, her numerous calls to his cellphone went unanswered.
When Rico hadn’t arrived at Jennifer’s house, she grew more worried. At around 8:00pm, she called Margaret to ask if she should file a missing person’s report, but the two agreed to wait it out. Jennifer repeatedly checked her phone for any missed messages or calls from her boyfriend, but there were none. She also tried to tell herself that he may have booked a hotel for the weekend in order to clear his mind, but this was unlikely.
On October 12, a sheriff’s deputy in Yolo County was doing a routine inspection of a parking lot in Lower Site, an isolated rest area in Yolo County Regional State Park. While doing so, he saw a black Nissan Maxima parked off to the side, but didn’t think much of it until he saw it was still there the next day. He ran the plates, discovered it belonged to Rico Harris, and contacted the Alhambra Police Department.
Alhambra police went to Margaret’s house upon receiving word of Rico’s car being abandoned and told her it had been found hundreds of miles away. After this, she contacted Jennifer and immediately filed a missing person’s report, which launched the official investigation.
To kick off the investigation, police contacted Rico’s cellphone provider to ask for pings. Within the hour, they were informed it had pinged in the Redwood Valley area, 70 miles away from where the car was found. This prompted investigators to contact everyone who lived in the area.
When looking at the car, it was discovered that the battery was dead and it was out of gas. It also appeared to have been ransacked, as items were all over the floor. Amongst the items found were Rico’s Washington state driver’s license and his credit card. This led police to question if Rico had driven his car to where it was found or if someone else had.
Upon the car being towed to the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, it was processed for fingerprints and DNA.
A search and rescue team was ordered to look through the area. The search, which involved all-terrain vehicles and an airline equipped with a heat-sensing camera, spanned a five mile radius around the parking lot where the car was found, as well as the 27 miles along Route 16 through the canyon. This was of great importance to authorities, given the dangerous terrain and animals in the area.
During the search, no trace of Rico was found in the woods or on the road near the parking lot. However, large footprints and the inserts from tennis shoes were discovered down by Cache Creek, which indicated he’d actually been the one to drive his car to the area. This also led police to speculate that he could have come to the area to either refresh himself or take in the scenery, like other tourists.
Early into the investigation, a promising lead was called in from a man in Redwood, who said he had Rico’s cellphone. According to him, he, his wife and his grandson had found a backpack along the side of the road. They picked it up to see if there was any ID in it, but couldn’t find any. To try and find the owner, they yelled up and down the road, as well as looked down the creek, but couldn’t see anyone. As such, they took it with them.
When police received the backpack, it only raised more questions. When shown where it had been found, they could find no indications of a struggle, and they were confused as to why Rico had left it on the side of the road. As well, it contained within in it a set of jumper cables, some clothing and bottles of what’s believed to have been alcohol. Speculation arose as to if Rico had gone down to the creek, only to come up elsewhere and hitch a ride out of the area, leaving his backpack behind.
A search of the cellphone uncovered a video that had been filmed while Rico was parked in Lower Site. It showed him sitting in his car, unaware he was filming, ripping things up and tossing CDs around the car, which explained why it had been in such disarray. This led police to question the missing man’s state of mind, while Margaret and Jennifer felt both hope that Rico could be nearby, as well as worry for their missing loved one.
Over the next several days, the search for Rico continued, focusing on nearby fire roads and canyons, as well as the creek and the area surrounding it. However, no sign of him was found.
Margaret soon became frustrated at the distance between her and the investigation, as she was unable to keep up-to-date with the search for her son due to how far away the search area was.
The more they searched, the more investigators began to question why Rico had been so far from Interstate 5, which was the road he needed to be on if he wanted to reach Seattle. This led them to look into his history and his past struggles with alcohol and drugs. This made them think he could have come to the area to do drugs, as it was secluded and out of sight. As he would have been awake for nearly 50 hours upon arriving at the rest area, they speculated he could have been using drugs to stimulate himself.
A complete inventory of the contents of Rico’s car resulted in the discovery of a bindle, which is known by authorities to be used to store drugs. However, no traces of anything illicit were found within it and no paraphernalia was discovered in the vehicle. Police also looked in surrounding towns known for dealing and using drugs, as well as local homeless shelters and transient camps, but found no signs of him.
A missing persons alert was then raised to the press, neighbouring law enforcement and thousands of area cellphones. Within a day of it going out, dozens of calls were made to the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office. Three witnesses claimed to have seen a tall, African American male on October 12, a day after he went missing. The first said he had been sitting on a guardrail; a second saw him walking southbound on Highway 16; and a couple saw him walking around a black car, seemingly confused. As well, the three accounts came on the same day his backpack had been discovered by the man from Redwood Valley. This further supported the speculation that Rico had hitchhiked out of the area.
On October 19, 2014, a witness came forward to say he’d seen a large individual wearing light-coloured pants of a similar hue to the ones Rico had been wearing when he left Alhambra, walking on a cattle guard near the bushes, near the parking lot in Lower Site. When searched, additional fresh footprints were found, which were consistent with Rico having returned to the area. Investigators surmised he must have returned to grab his belongings, but are unsure as to where he could have gone.
One month into the investigation, cadaver dogs were sent into the wooded area near Lower Site. One of the dogs favoured a deeper pool in the area, but a dive search of the water turned up no evidence.
Jennifer has been proactive throughout the duration of the investigation, as has Margaret. They’ve both spoken to news outlets about Rico’s disappearance, and Jennifer set up a Facebook page to help raise awareness. They both feel a negative bias was placed on the investigation due to Rico’s troubled past.
Detectives continue to check Rico’s credit report for any use of his cards or incidences of identity theft, but nothing has come up. His bank account also hasn’t been touched since he set off for Seattle.
The more time that goes by, the more it’s believed foul play was involved in Rico’s disappearance.
As of 2015, the case has gone cold.
As of right now, there are no theories regarding the case. While police believe Rico had gotten a ride out of the Lower Site area upon his car running out of gas, they are unsure what happened after or if/how he left the area. As little evidence has been uncovered, they don’t have much to go on.
Margaret began to experience a deep depression as a result of her son’s disappearance, and it’s said to have left her devastated. To help comfort herself, she has spoken with other people whose loved ones have gone missing.
Margaret and Jennifer have grown close as a result of Rico’s disappearance. They speak on the phone almost every day and see each other as comfort. Jennifer says she feels closer to Rico as a result of connecting with his mother.
CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:
Rico Harris went missing from Yolo County, California on October 10, 2014. He was 37 years old, and was last seen wearing light-coloured pants. At the time of his disappearance, he was 6’9″ and weighed approximately 280 pounds. He is African American, and has “BALLIN IV LIFE” and a basketball tattooed on his left arm.
Currently, he is classified as a missing persons. If alive, he would be 42 years old.
If you have any information regarding the case, you can contact the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office at 530-668-6612.
Image Credit: NBC News