24 year-old Derek Lueking has been missing since March 17th, 2012. That morning, Derek's roommate Ryan Moulden noticed that Derek's alarm was continuously going off. At the time, Ryan thought Derek had left for work early and simply forgot to turn off his alarm. However, when it was later determined that Derek had not shown up for work at all that day, Ryan new something was wrong. He contacted Derek's parents, who subsequently traveled from Virginia to Derek's home in Knoxville, Tennessee to search for their son.
Derek's parents soon learned that Derek had searched the Great Smoky Mountains on his computer shortly before he vanished. He also purchased maps of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a tent and sleeping bag, in addition to a military survival manual, a compass/thermometer, a pocketknife with a sharpener, a fire starter, parachute cords, granola bars, and other survival items. On the surface, this does not seem too unusual, as Derek's parents describe him as an avid camper and hiker. Derek's computer also revealed that he booked a room at the Microtel Inn--a micro-hotel in Cherokee, North Carolina. Cherokee is an approximate two hour drive from Derek's home in Knoxville.
|The Microtel Inn in Cherokee|
Derek's parents then drove from the hotel to nearby hiking trails, where they found Derek's car parked at the Newfound Gap area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Due to the fact that Derek had purchased numerous camping/survival items prior to driving to Cherokee, his parents at first that he might have just gone for camping trip in the mountains. However, many of the items Derek had purchased, including the tent, had been left in his car. Additionally, a note written by Derek was found inside the car. It simply read, "Don't follow me."
Derek has never been seen or heard from again. A search of the area did not reveal any clues and none of Derek's other items have been recovered. Due to this, some have theorized that Derek could have started a new life somewhere else, but staged scene to make it look like he went off into the mountains. A more common theory is that Derek encountered some sort of danger while hiking in the mountains, or that he might have taken his own life. None of these theories have been confirmed and Derek's case is still open. The National Park Service is in charge of his case. If you have any information that could lead to his whereabouts, please contact 828-497-1940.
If you're planning on hiking/camping by yourself, please consider using safe hiking & survival gear--available for purchase here.