GLEN FALLS, N.Y. (Spectrum News/CNN) - A man whose New York family had believed him to be dead was found alive three decades later in Oregon by a persistent childhood friend and retired police officer.
Brian Pincheon, a retired Fort Edward Police officer, wanted answers about what happened to his friend, Rick Hazelton, who went missing in 1986. After years of not hearing from him, Hazelton’s family had him legally declared dead.
But through research, Pincheon found a sketch of someone he thought looked a lot like Hazelton, and he and a detective from Nashville, Tenn., tracked down some information.
Hazelton, who was, in fact, not dead, got a letter in the mail in August.
"One day, I got a letter in the mail that said, ‘You’re being investigated in a missing persons report,’ and I thought, 'That can’t be right. I’m not missing. This has gotta be a mistake,’” he said.
Two weeks later, the police came to his door.
Eventually, after exchanging letters with phone numbers, Hazelton called Pincheon. They talked for more than three hours about childhood memories.
"I didn’t think anybody really cared, so I just made my own life and did it,” Hazelton said. “When I called them, they were like, 'Oh, you’re like back from the dead!’”
Hazelton says after he went missing, he tried being a street performer in New York City. From there, he’d gone to Miami, caught an inexpensive flight to Colorado, then hitchhiked west.
"After that, I’d raised a family and all that and lived life, and then, we moved to Oregon. I’ve been there for 20 years,” he said.
Cell phones and social media weren’t around back then, and Hazelton says he just fell out of touch with friends and family.
But after months of planning, Hazelton made his way back to his hometown to see his childhood friends once again. The group organized a game of kickball Sunday on the same playground where they used to play as kids.
"We’ve all changed a little bit, so we’re older now. We’ve got kids and families and all that, so it’s like getting to know everyone again,” Hazelton said.
Hazelton will be in town until after Thanksgiving, spending time catching up on the 33 years he missed.
"It’s so heartwarming to feel the love that we have here today for each other and how much we missed each other,” Pincheon said. “If you love somebody, don’t ever give up on them. If you don’t have an answer, keep going until you can find out what actually happened.”