SOUTH FORK — The daughters of Marlena Mizell, recounted their harrowing experience during the search for their mother who was last seen Jan. 4 in South Fork.
On March 1, Local law enforcement and emergency service personnel recovered and positively identified the remains of a body discovered off of Wolf Creek Pass as that of Mizell.
Lead investigator for the case South Fork Police Department Chief Hank Weber stated that there were no further details to be released at this time and that all law enforcement statements will be issued through a Public Information Officer with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The case is being handled as an accident and there are no indications of criminal intent at this time.
Daughters Sarah and Megan Mizell spoke with Valley Publishing from their homes in Texas.
“Law enforcement officials began working my mom’s case on Jan. 4, 2021. Colorado State Patrol Cpl. Jonathan Hart began working on the case and went to Rainbow Lodge in South Fork to look around. Hart did not question anyone or take statements at this time. I called South Fork Police Department at 5:05 p.m. (Texas time) and discussed the case of my mom missing and what they were doing. The officer we spoke with did not seem concerned about my mom at all. We would like it noted that South Fork Police Department never called any of my mom’s family, including myself,” stated Megan.
Four days into the investigation, Mizell’s daughters reached out to several CBI officers asking for assistance in their mother’s case. According to Megan, the sisters wanted to make sure that all agencies were involved in the search. It was later, on Jan. 8, that a friend and neighbor of Mizell contacted the sisters and gave them a brief account of the last time Mizell was seen leaving her home.
The neighbor reported that Mizell, “pulled out of Rainbow Lodge around 11:50 a.m. and looked like she was headed to the gas station or grocery store. The neighbor described Marlena wearing a black jacket and she also said Marlena didn’t look frantic or like she would be going somewhere long.”
The neighbor’s husband saw Mizell not much later headed toward Pagosa Springs in her vehicle and told law enforcement that she waved and honked at him before driving on.
For the next several days, Megan and her sister traveled to South Fork from their homes in Texas. It was at this time that the two sat down with law enforcement and CBI investigators to discuss the status of the case and to give DNA samples that could potentially help later in the case.
The sisters then traveled to Wolf Creek Pass and were searching along the highway when they thought they saw a car down the cliff face near Mile Marker 162.
“We were off Wolf Creek Pass and saw what looked to be a car roughly 500 feet down the cliff side. We could not see due to the dark of night but when we asked Jonathon Hart (the lead investigator at the time) he said could not go out there and look with us,” Megan stated. “Sarah and I than called 911 and the State Patrol arrived soon after. One officer went down the side of the mountain because they thought it was a car as well. Turns out it was not. However, at this time these patrol officers said they were aware of the case and they assured us they have been looking.”
It was at this time that the sisters reached out to South Fork Fire Rescue (SFFR) and asked for their assistance in the case. SFFR Chief Tyler Off who after speaking with investigator Hart, decided not to aid in the search with drones until a more precise location could be identified, Megan said.
That same day and while they were at the SFFR station in South Fork, CBI contacted Megan and stated that they executed a warrant for Mizell’s cell phone and that the information received said that the cell phone had taken a southernly route into New Mexico on Highway 84 and then along Highway 64 heading west.
The daughters gathered a search party and searched several locations in New Mexico between Dulce and Navajo City.
“Sarah and I began gathering a search team with the Hickoria/Jicarilla Apache reservation. Once we arrived, we had volunteers, a fish and game warden, the oil field ‘patrol,’ and Rio Arriba Deputy Epling searching with us,” Megan said. “We did not find anything. However, Deputy Epling said he would check the cameras in the area and especially the travel center gas station off of Highway 64 heading west. These cameras unfortunately re-record every 3 days.”
From that point until Jan. 18, the sisters tried to do their own investigation asking gas station clerks and other local individuals in the Pagosa Springs area if they had seen their mother. The search was met with difficulties as those they questioned needed to be contacted by law enforcement before turning over any evidence they might have. The case investigation was at this time turned over to South Fork Chief of Police Hank Weber.
Megan stated that she did not hear from Weber for nine days after trying to reach him several times. On Feb. 20, Weber contacted Megan and informed her that they may have found her mother’s car off of Wolf Creek Pass but that she was not to release that information to anyone. Two days later, Weber released the information to Valley Publishing and an article printed within hours.
Over the next several days, local law enforcement in partnership with local ski patrol and search and rescue teams worked to reach the vehicle to no avail. On Feb. 24 CBI released a statement that a body was located off of Wolf Creek Pass by a skier which was later confirmed by El Paso Coroner to be that of Mizell.
The black box was retrieved from the vehicle and is being investigated for pertinent information which according to CBI will be released when it comes available.