By KIM SMITH DEDAM
---- — TUPPER LAKE — It has been one year since Colin Gillis disappeared after a party at a private home on Paskungameh Road.
The 18-year-old college student was on spring break from the College at Brockport.
March 4 was his 19th birthday.
A pre-med student, Colin was last seen walking along State Route 3 at about 1:45 a.m. March 11 last year.
His cellphone logged a call at 1:30 a.m., according to State Police.
He was reported missing by his family the next day, and forest rangers with the State Department of Environmental Conservation and State Police mounted a vigorous two-week search that drew hundreds of volunteers — that later grew to more than 1,000 — with countless hours logged searching in knee-deep snow.
Teams worked an intensive grid, walking step by step, covering miles of backwoods terrain as rangers and police used air boats and high-tech radar equipment to peer into the waters of the Raquette River and Piercefield Flow.
No trace of the missing teen was found, other than his driver’s permit, which was recovered near Setting Pole Dam Road near State Route 3.
State Police investigators reported that there was some alcohol at the party.
Colin left on foot and was seen walking south, toward Piercefield.
‘NEVER GIVE UP’
His disappearance has so far confounded State Police investigators, who have an active and open file on the case.
Rob Gillis, who is Colin’s uncle and the brother of John Gillis, Colin’s father, said one year marks a very difficult time and that immediate family have asked for privacy.
No new breaks have opened in the search for Colin, Rob told the Press-Republican.
“There is no new information, not to our knowledge, no. Only that when I talked to the BCI (Bureau of Criminal Investigation) investigator, he says the information about Colin has never stopped.
“And they just never give up. When it comes to a missing person, they never give up. We are just hoping that some little piece of information will trigger an event that will allow them to solve this mystery.
“We keep hoping and praying that the pieces of the puzzle will come together. My brother, my sister-in-law, Patty, Colin’s two brothers and the rest of both of the families would like to know. We are all looking for closure. We still have great faith that someday we will know what transpired.”
The Gillis family has increased the reward amount for information that might lead authorities to Colin or to learn what happened that night a year ago.
An initial $10,000 has been upped to $25,000, Rob said.
“We raised the reward hoping to keep the information flowing and entice more people to come forward, if there’s any enticement to be had.”
NEW SIGNS PLACED
Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne has also allowed the Gillis family to design and buy some 10-by-8-foot road signs featuring a large photo of Colin.
The signs were erected in time for the one-year mark of his disappearance.
“They will be temporary signs placed along the roadsides. A few of these road signs will be in and around the village (of Tupper Lake) entrances,” Rob said.
“We are hoping they catch the attention of somebody who might have been in and around that event a year ago and it triggers a light-bulb moment when someone might realize, ‘Oh, it’s that kid.’”
The signs will be temporary and portable.
The Franklin County District Attorney’s Office helped cover the cost of the roadside-alert signs.
“We’re trying to keep the flow of information coming our way. We’re hopeful that someday we will solve this puzzle,” Rob said.
“The police have had success using these types of road signs in the past few years. Maybe at a later date, we might move them to other communities, to the west, toward Watertown.”
That is the direction Colin was headed early in the morning of March 11, 2012.
At least one eyewitnesses saw a young man fitting his description walking toward Piercefield at about 1:45 a.m. The witness reported the siting to State Police, who responded to search along the roadway and found no one.
During hunting season, DEC encouraged hunters to keep an eye out for any sign of the missing college student.
But no additional evidence was found.
Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun has started every Village Board meeting since with a moment of silence for the safe return of Colin Gillis.
He said it doesn’t seem possible a year has gone by without a trace.
“Mine and everybody’s hearts go out to John and Patty (Gillis) and their family because there is no closure. It’s hard to imagine somehow we haven’t heard more about where Colin is.
“Everybody in the town feels badly about it. We hope to hear good news. Every day that goes by seems to make the situation worse. When I go down Route 3, I can’t believe a summer went by without finding anything.”
Rob Gillis said the outpouring of support from community friends and neighbors has helped get the family through the past year.
Numerous fundraisers have been held to help raise money toward the search for Colin.
“The Tupper Lake community has been so wonderful to our family,” Rob said.
Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org
HOW TO HELP
Anyone who has information about Colin Gilles or the ongoing missing person's case is asked to contact New York State Police at 897-2000.
Colin is described a 6 feet tall and weighing 170 pounds.
He was last seen wearing a white shirt with black strips, blue jeans and red high-top Nike Air sneakers. He had an orange L.L. Bean backpack with him that night.