Body found in Eagle River is missing Vail Valley teen
Coroner confirms Ryan Daniels was found Friday after disappearing May 22
EAGLE — Ryan Daniels’ body was found in the Eagle River, where his family and authorities feared it would be.
Ryan — full name Ryan Benjamin Kirby-Daniels — went missing May 22. He was last seen alive at about 7:30 a.m. that day. Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis confirmed Daniels’ identification Wednesday morning.
The cause and manner of death are still under investigation, Bettis said.
Daniels’ body was spotted Friday afternoon, about a half-mile west of Squaw Creek Road between Edwards and Wolcott, launching an inter-agency rescue. Crews from the Eagle River Fire Protection District, Vail Mountain Rescue Group, Eagle County Paramedics and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office assisted in recovering the body.
With rivers and streams running at historic levels all spring, Daniels’ body was not spotted until water levels dropped following spring runoff.
Small sense of closure
Between May 22 and last Friday, Daniels’ parents, Aimee and Stephen, heard nothing. They filed a missing person report in early June with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff’s investigators had not heard anything either, even after they upped the ante with a cash reward.
There’s a slight sense of closure now that they know. It’s small, but it’s something, Stephen Daniels said.
“Not knowing was very disturbing. Where is he? How is he? How did he get there?” Stephen Daniels said.
They do not know how their son died.
“That will bother us for some time,” Stephen Daniels said.
Loving and independent
Daniels was many things: smart, a loving brother to his younger brother, a great skier and a horseman. But, his father said, his independent streak was what most defined his son.
“He always sought independence and did things for himself. He was pretty good at it,” Stephen Daniels said. “Anything he wanted to do he could do well. Like many of us, he didn’t always know what he wanted to do.”
Daniels struggled emotionally with some things, as many teens do.
It is often said that the best thing for the inside of a kid is the outside of a horse. During his mid-teens, Ryan spent 15 months at a horse ranch in Arizona learning to train horses. His family bought him a horse when he returned, which they still own.
He was a high school freshman at that horse ranch as part of its academic program. When he returned to the valley he attended Red Canyon High School. Stephen said it suited him better — more flexibility, fewer kids.
Daniels decided after high school to join the military — maybe the Army, maybe the National Guard. He rejected the Navy because he wasn’t fond of the water. He finally settled on the Air Force, Stephen Daniels said.
Some of the attraction was the structure, some was the allure of travel and being around guys his own age.
“He had some natural leadership skills and he thought this was a place to develop them,” Stephen Daniels said.
His friends in basic training looked at him like he was crazy because he enjoyed it so much, Stephen Daniels said.
“You have to keep your guys in order and the drill instructors yell at the squad leaders all the time about that. He did it so well that they quit yelling at him,” Stephen Daniels said.
A few weeks into basic training the Air Force medically discharged him, citing his hearing, Stephen Daniels said. Daniels appealed, waiting at home with his parents for the military’s ruling.
“He was very disheartened,” Stephen Daniels said.
His hearing loss amounted to 40% less than normal in one ear, something the Air Force knew when he enlisted, Stephen Daniels said. They also knew about the two shattered wrists he suffered when he fell off a ladder on a construction site where he was working. Local doctors put him back together with plates and other hardware. Daniels’ wrists healed and he reported to the Air Force for basic training, Stephen Daniels said.
“It was a major goal in his life. He signed up for six years. He might have ended up with a career in the military,” Stephen Daniels said. “It really hurt him that he could not stay in the Air Force. He had a hard time figuring out what to do next.”
His family has set up a Facebook page, “Rest In Peace Ryan Kirby Daniels,” and plans to establish a scholarship for other boys at the Arizona horse ranch.
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With the snowpack and precipitation levels in Pitkin County below last year at this time, local officials are bracing for an active wildfire season this summer.