WORDS OF THANKS: Despite the Grand Canyon National Park’s decision to scale back the search for two hikers who went missing in the vast park Saturday evening, the families of Lou Ann Merrell and Jackson Standefer continue to hold out hope.

Merrell, a 62-year-old proven outdoorswoman, is married to Randy Merrell, who cofounded the Merrell Footwear Co. in 1981. Now owned by Wolverine Worldwide, Merrell specializes in hiking boots, trail running shoes and performance-oriented apparel for the outdoors. The woman and her 14-year-old step grandson were separated from a larger group that included a few family members while hiking in a remote back country area of the park near the North Rim, which is popular with multi-day backpackers at this time of year, a GCNP spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The National Parks Service received an emergency alert from a personal locating beacon Saturday evening near the confluence of Tapeats Creek and Thunder River. An Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter flew to the location where a hiking party reported two members of their party missing. “The party reported that Merrell and Standefer were last seen crossing Tapeats Creek below the confluence with Thunder River when they lost footing and were swept down Tapeats Creek.” according to a statement issued by the GCNP Thursday.

From April 16 through Wednesday, a 20-person search party of three teams canvassed the area along the Tapeats Creek and the Colorado River, staying in the field overnight. To cover areas inaccessible to ground searchers, each day the NPS also utilized a helicopter and crew, an unmanned aerial system and operator, and an inflatable motor raft and associated search team.

As of Thursday, the NPS planned to focus search efforts along the Colorado River below the confluence with Tapeats Creek with a search crew operating an inflatable motor raft. If no additional information is discovered or received Thursday, the search “will continue in a limited and continuous mode focused on public outreach and search efforts during regular backcountry patrols. The NPS will continue to follow up and investigate any new information that it receives.” the GCNP reported Thursday.

The Merrell and Standefer families released the following statement Thursday morning: “This morning the Merrell and Standefer families are still praying for a miracle in Grand Canyon National Park. Today, April 20, the search for Lou Ann Merrell and Jackson Standefer will continue on a limited basis. After carefully considering all the information available to us, and based on our personal knowledge of the search area, we support Grand Canyon National Park’s (GCNP) decision to scale back the search.

“We thank the GCNP staff for their exemplary service. We know they have done everything possible since Saturday, April 15, to find Lou Ann and Jackson. We also know countless people were praying for a much different outcome than this one. We felt your prayers and were sustained by them in ways we cannot begin to describe. We are profoundly grateful for the support that continues to pour in from across the country,” the statement read.

The families’ remarks continued: “We thank GCNP, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, Uintah County (Utah) search and rescue, Merrell Boot Co., Sky-Tec of Chattanooga, Tenn., Xanterra Hospitality, and all others who volunteered their time, talents and equipment in the effort to find Lou Ann and Jackson.”

The statement concluded with, “We ask that you please continue to pray for our families, as our loved ones are still missing, and please respect our privacy at this time.”

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