Enumclaw teens drowned, Rainier School resident still missing in separate incidents

The search for Joel Wellman, the Rainier School resident, was officially called off Feb. 3.

Scores of law officers, search and rescue workers, and community volunteers scoured local forestland this month after three disappearances were reported on the Plateau.

Over in Enumclaw, the search for Austin Grote, 18, and Aleecia McAskill, 17, ended in tragedy as the two were found dead.

The couple, both former Enumclaw High School students, were last seen Saturday, Feb. 1, at the local Safeway. They were reported missing the next day when they hadn’t returned.

Grote’s car was quickly found east of Enumclaw about half a mile south of Mud Mountain Dam Road, King County’s Sgt. Ryan Abbott said, and more than 40 deputies and search and rescue workers were involved in the following search.

The two were found around 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 4.

According to the King County Medical Examiners Office, both Grote and McAskill had drowned, and their deaths determined to be accidental.

The funeral and a celebration of life for McAskill was held yesterday, Feb. 11, in Tacoma; a service date for Grote has yet to be announced.

In Buckley, the search for a missing Rainier School resident has been officially called off.

Joel A. Wellman, 29, was last seen at the school around 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 31. When he couldn’t be found, the Pierce County Sheriff’s department immediately began a search, but had to put it on hold due to windy conditions and resumed the next day.

Deputies surmised Wellman, who is developmentally disabled, initially went south, since a sweatshirt of his was found on a Hancock logging road a little more than a mile away from the school. It was reported he was wearing a green shirt, blue jeans, and black tennis shoes; he’s 6-foot-1, weighs 225 pounds, and has brown hair and green eyes.

Authorities reported that Wellman can be aggressive towards people and will throw rocks, and may run or hide from searchers.

But after a full weekend of searching involving more than 100 people from search and rescue, the Buckley Police Department, the Muckleshoot Tribe and Kittitas, Kitsap, Snohomish, King and Thurston counties, and community volunteers, the Sheriff’s Department called off the search on Monday, Feb. 3, according to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

“We are truly devastated by our client’s disappearance,” Rainier School’s superintendent Megan DeSmet said in a press release. “While we remain hopeful he will return safely, our thoughts are with Joel’s family, friends and the staff at Rainier School who support him.”

She added that DSHS will continue to work with law enforcement and conduct its own investigation of how and why Wellman disappeared.