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An 8-year-old boy disappeared while Christmas tree hunting in Oregon and 20 years later, he's still missing

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By MIKE MARUT, KTVL

ROCKY POINT, Ore. (CIRCA via KTVL) — Derrick Engebretson went missing 20 years ago on Wednesday.

He, his father Robert and his grandfather Bob all went Christmas tree hunting in Rocky Point, Oregon, on Dec. 5, 1998. Derrick was supposed to cut down the tree.

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After 20 years of searching, dead-end leads and waiting, a memorial still hangs from a tree in the spot Derrick was last seen.

Search and Rescue in Klamath County never found a boy's body in the Rocky Point area.

"You never go into something thinking, 'Well, I'm going to be talking about this 20 years from now,' and if you do, it's because it's a success story," Lt. Brian Bryson, Search and Rescue coordinator, said.

Derrick Engebretson
Derrick Engebretson at age 8. (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System)

All the clues and evidence in the search for Derrick have been dead ends, including a confession from convicted sex offender Frank Milligan that he later recanted. After it was recanted, the boy's parents believed he did not kidnap their son. Derrick's hatchet was never recovered, and footprints that may have been his were wiped away during a snowstorm that night 20 years ago, followed by plows.

Detectives received tips from as far away as San Francisco and as recently as last year.

"This is probably the largest volume of information we've got on any cold case," Detective Nick Kennedy said.

Derrick's father and grandfather split up with Derrick, bringing along his hatchet to cut down the tree. When Robert and Bob returned, Derrick was missing.

"I said to him, 'Has Derrick come out yet? Has Derrick come out yet?'" Robert remembered. "He's like, 'No,' all nonchalantly, and I'm like, 'Dad! My son is missing!'"

Derrick Engebretson
This age progression shows what Derrick Engebretson might have looked like at age 18. (National Missing and Unidentified Persons System)

Even after 20 years, you can still see all the nails and tacks left in the tree in Klamath County. After all this time, Derrick's mother still has hope that he will one day walk through their front door.

"I want to believe that he's still alive to this day, and until somebody shows me something different, I don't think I'm ever going to give up on him," Lori said.

Lori believes her son was kidnapped after saying the family first found small footprints in the snow leading to the road. Kennedy says Klamath County Sheriff's Office cannot share any theories the investigators have, but Derrick's family is sure he is not on the mountain where he went missing.

Lori sees herself as the emotional rock the Engebretson family needs.

"When Derrick disappeared, I started watching everybody crumble and I couldn't do that," Lori said. "If I crumbled, then that meant everyone was just going to go worse."

Despite the time that has passed, Derrick's parents feel the same as they did that first year without their son.

"Every day we wake up, we relive everything," Lori said.

After Derrick first went missing, Robert went searching for his son every weekend, every day off, whenever he could, for two years.

Derrick would now be 28 years old. Lori describes him with a scar on his chin and a scar underneath his nose from a dog bite. Derrick has brown hair and brown eyes.

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