Rico Harris was once a promising basketball star. In his days at a Los Angeles community college and Cal State-Northridge in the 1990s, he was eyed by the NBA and even considered a possible first-round draft pick. But substance abuse problems kept him from going pro. He eventually played for the Harlem Globetrotters briefly in 2000 before a head injury caused by a former player hitting him on the head with a baseball bat left him unable to play. He was also arrested over 100 times, most of them for public intoxication. Most nights he would spend a night in jail and get out and sometimes he would even beg on the streets to support his drug addiction.
At 30 years old, he is O.D. on pain medication. Once this happened, it obviously scared him, because he checked himself into rehab until he became sober. Then he moved into an apartment with a friend from rehab.
Then he was in a long-distance relationship with a woman in Seattle. Her name was Jennifer Song. He and his roommate were fighting about Jennifer. His soon-to-be ex-roommate was not happy about this, so Rico moved out, leaving his roommate with all of the bills. He made the decision to move in with her in Seattle, and he had a job interview lined up in Seattle as a property appraiser—a professional, non-athletic opportunity he was supposedly excited about.
But first, on October 8th, he said he went to visit his family in the LA suburb of Alhambra. But some people speculate that he and Jennifer’s relationship was on the rocks. But he told his family he was so happy and just wanted to visit them. He gave his brother a brand-new cell phone. He also had a private conversation with his mom, and she said he seemed to be looking for answers, but she wasn’t sure what kind. He also said he didn’t even stay too long at his mother’s house. He packed a few random items in his car and then was off to leave. His mother said it was really odd that he traveled a whole six hours just for a few items. She personally thinks he was there for some other reason.
Harris left Alhambra shortly after midnight—very early on the day of October 10, 2014—to begin the 17-hour drive to Seattle. His job interview was scheduled for the following day, the 11th. He missed his interview, and his family realized something was very wrong.
His mother did receive a call at 1 a.m. on October 10th, telling her not to worry and that he had left to go home. His excuse for leaving his mom’s house was that he had a promotion coming up on the 11th of October.
This trip seems very strange to me. Why would you just go to your mom’s house for a night and then leave? Or better yet, why wouldn’t you go visit your mom after your promotion? Unless this was your way of saying a last goodbye? Maybe he was getting ready to run away?
He called his girlfriend, Jennifer, and according to her, he hadn’t slept in over 30 hours, so she told him that going into the mountains to sleep was the best idea.
Harris drove north on I-5. Investigators determined that he purchased gas in Lodi, about 40 miles south of Sacramento. At 10:45 a.m., he called his girlfriend from north of Sacramento and left a message saying he was going “into the mountains” to rest. At 11:15 a.m., he turned his phone off, and no one has heard from him since.
His family and girlfriend waited until Oct. 14 to report him missing to the police. That same day, a Yolo County sheriff’s deputy spotted a black Nissan Maxima parked in a parking lot along Route 16, north of Rumsey, CA, for the second straight day. This area is quite rural and scenic; the road winds around Cache Creek. It is nearly an hour from I-5.
At 8 am, he called his girlfriend, and she said he still sounded very tired. Shortly after, he called his mom to tell her she was okay.
At 10:45 am, Jennifer got a text message saying, “I am doing well, and I love you.” This is the last time anyone has had any contact with him. Jennifer stated that she had attempted to contact Rico several times by phone. And he didn’t answer, which was very unlike him. 8 hours passed, then she called his mom, and she assured her he was fine and was convinced he had to wait 48 hours to file a missing person report.
After 48 hours, the police issued a notification for his vehicle but not a full missing person investigation report. On October 24, the Yoller county sheriff pulled onto Route 2-15 for a routine patrol. He noted a black vehicle.
The car belonged to Harris. It was out of gas and had a nearly dead battery. Inside was his wallet, minus one credit card and his ID. His phone was not in the car. There was also a bottle filled with some kind of liquor and an empty bottle that smelled of the same liquor.
The Yoller contacted his mother and notified her and then started a search for Rico. It is a rugged terrain area, and even experienced hikers would need some type of equipment. It’s incredible how this 6’9, 300-pound man vanished. They did, however, find one shoe print that matched his shoe size.
First Sightings: Two motorists reported seeing someone fitting Harris’s description in the area on Oct. 11, a full day after his last voicemail to his girlfriend. One said he was walking along the road; the other said he was sitting on a guardrail overlooking the creek about two miles from the parking lot. Near the spot on the guardrail, authorities located his backpack along the side of the road.
Phone: Harris’s phone and charger were in the backpack (along with jumper cables, according to at least one source). His phone contained images of the creek and Harris striking playful poses, along with accidental videos in which Harris appears to be having a good time, singing, and tossing things around his car. All were timestamped on October 10.
Last sighting: This one is interesting. On Oct. 19— more than a week after he arrived in the area and well after the search had begun — a man said he saw someone the previous day fitting Harris’s description and wearing clothes consistent with what Harris was last known to be wearing. The motorist said the man he saw was walking toward the parking lot where Harris’s car had been. The car had been towed days earlier. Police found footprints between the creek and the parking lot consistent with Harris’s shoe size.
Investigators were also able to find Harris’s backpack, left by the side of the road about 1,500 feet (460 m) from the guardrail he was reported to have been sitting on the morning after his last phone call. In it, they found his phone and charger and some other items not considered relevant to Harris’s whereabouts. The phone contained pictures of the creek and some selfies, including one in which Harris was standing in front of a sign welcoming drivers to Yolo County, striking a playful pose. There were also some videos, apparently taken unintentionally, showing Harris singing along to the music playing in his car and casually flinging CDs around the passenger compartment. They were timestamped for the night of October 10, demonstrating that Harris had been alive and in his car at that time. 
There have been no further sightings of Harris, who, at 6’ 9” and 300 pounds, would presumably stand out in a crowd.
One theory is that Harris died in the woods. We all know that even the most thorough searches have failed to locate bodies not far from where they were last seen. But unless the last sighting was a misidentification, it would mean Harris —who had lived his whole life in urban Los Angeles—had been in the woods for more than a week, presumably with no camping gear or other supplies. With this being the case, and with him having alcohol in his system and possibly other drugs, he could have overdosed and died in the woods.
Another theory is that he took a wrong turn, ran out of gas, and tried to walk to the nearest town. Not knowing the way and being drunk, he could have gotten lost in the woods and passed out, either getting lost in the woods and never being found or possibly dying out there of dehydration and starvation.
The lead investigator doesn’t think Harris is in the woods, though. Detective Dean Nylund of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t suspect foul play. He believes Harris ended up in the area after getting lost (evidently his phone indicated his route there was haphazard), sticking around for a while pondering his situation in life, and then, once he found his car had been towed, walking or hitching a ride somewhere. This doesn’t explain what he was doing in the woods for more than a week, but it would mean he is very likely still alive. If this is true, why hasn’t he ever contacted anyone? Was he trying to start a new life?
Dean Nyland, the detective working the case for the sheriff’s office, has ruled out the possibility of foul play in Harris’s disappearance. The photos and video on Harris’s phone suggest he came to Yolo County voluntarily and alone; no evidence of any kind of struggle was found in or near the car. His backpack and phone also do not show any signs that they were taken forcibly; Nyland believes Harris may have left them where he found them, either accidentally or purposely, to avoid being tracked via the phone. Nyland believes Harris may have made a wrong turn after getting gas and followed the road up into the hills of Yolo County. Seeing the parking lot, he may have decided to take a nap before driving further. When Harris woke up later that day, Nyland believes, the unresolved issues from his past came into play, and he may have decided not to continue to Seattle just yet. “To him, this must have seemed like heaven,” he said, showing a reporter the spot on the guardrail overlooking the creek where one driver reported seeing Harris the next morning. In the accidental videos on the phone, he adds, Harris seemed like “a free man.” After wandering the area for a few days, including those during which he had been sought, he returned to his car and found it gone, Nyland believes. At that point, he either walked away into the woods or towards another town. “We have no sightings, so he probably got a ride,” the detective says. That is his theory.