There used to be three brothers in the Palmer family: Chris, the oldest, Chucky in the middle, and Michael, the baby.
Michael Palmer was last seen riding his bike down a Wasilla road in 1999, when he was 15. He hasn't been seen since.
On Saturday Chucky Palmer was riding his snowmachine in the rugged backcountry of the Talkeetna Mountains. The 31-year-old wasn't a strong rider, and he lost the men he was riding with that night. Searchers found his machine Sunday morning, but no tracks or other signs of Chucky were found. Alaska State Troopers called off the search Wednesday evening.
Chris, 32, spent four days searching for his brother, snowmachining the foothills of Bald Mountain with other volunteers. There were times when it reminded him of driving Wasilla's back roads, 11 years ago, looking for Michael.
"I never thought I'd have to deal with this shit ever again," said Chris, who on Thursday was back at home, a 20-foot RV parked in front of his mother and stepfather's house in Wasilla.
"Two brothers aren't supposed to go missing from the same family."
Blue-eyed, blond-haired Michael disappeared on a June night 11 years ago. Earlier in the evening he had been at a Wasilla graduation party, but after that accounts differ.
At the time, troopers said Michael was biking back from the party with three other boys when he got separated. The other boys waited for him, but he never showed. Troopers said a bicycle they pulled from the Little Susitna River was the one Michael was riding, but Chris said it was a different bike. Chris said there were fights at the house party his little brother biked to, and he thinks something bad happened there.
Divers searched the Little Su, about 50 searchers combed the nearby woods, and troopers interviewed teenagers who had been at the party. A pair of wet shoes, the same size and brand Michael wore, was found less than a mile from where he was last seen, but other than that no trace of the youngest brother was ever found.
Chris would have been riding with his younger brother and the others on Saturday, but that morning the handlebar on his machine snapped.
The rest of the crew left him behind at the cabin where they were staying, roaring off with the brothers' stepfather leading the way and Chucky riding a machine he'd bought only recently.
"I'm usually the last rider out there to make sure nobody get left behind," Chris said, but on Saturday Chucky brought up the rear. The older men Chucky was following told troopers they last saw him riding away from the cabin in the opposite direction. Chris said he thinks it's more likely they simply ran too fast for Chucky to keep up.
Weather hammered the search from the beginning. A trooper helicopter could only get up in the air on some of the days, and deep wet snow made travel difficult for the searchers on snowmachines.
"We got over 28 inches of snow since the search started," said Sgt. Troy Shuey, supervisor of the trooper post in Talkeetna.
Chucky, whose full name is Charles Palmer Jr., leaves behind three daughters: a 9-year-old and twin 10-year-olds.
Chucky's father, Chuck Palmer Sr., said he sometimes wished he could have been the kind of caring father Chucky was. Chucky would comb his daughters' hair, read to them, just talk to them, Chuck said.
After riding the hills for days searching for his brother, Chris said he feels like he's barely keeping it together.
"My brother's out there fucking starving," Chris said. "How am I going to eat?"
On Wednesday night the brothers' mother, Lisa Rearick, was at her home in Wasilla. When asked about her middle son, she answered in a very small voice.
"We're still praying for a miracle. We haven't given up hope," she said.
Contact Joshua Saul at jsaul(at)alaskadispatch.com.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing