A studio is filming a documentary in Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park this week, to focus on the search and rescue efforts surrounding the disappearance of Mitchell Dale Stehling, 51, in 2013.
Prometheus Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in television documentaries, is conducting interviews and shooting footage for a two-hour special about the disappearance. Associate producer Marielle Huey said the film crew would be in Cortez at least until Thursday, and planned to film in Mesa Verde as well. The crew is interviewing former rescue workers who participated in the intensive search for Mitchell Stehling.
Stephani Burditt, of the Four Corners Film Office, said the crew started interviews on Monday.
“As I understand it, the goal of the documentary is to highlight search and rescue workers, and possibly get more money donated to these causes,” she said.
Mitchell Stehling’s wife, Denean Stehling, accompanied the film crew during filming at the park. In a phone interview Thursday, she said there have been no clues to the whereabouts of her husband, who was last seen by hikers on June 9, 2013, on the Petroglyph Trail. An intensive, two-week search included 70 searchers, a helicopter, search dogs, a Hotshot crew and horse patrols. Searchers rappelled off cliffs near a steep section of the trail and scoured the canyons and mesas, but found no clues.
“They need to expand the search from the area of the Petroglyph Trail where they’ve been looking. They need to have more regular organized searches so we can find (Mitchell) and our family can have closure,” Denean Stehling said.
The Stehling family has visited the park numerous times to search for Mitchell Stehling and meet with park officials, who reported to her that the investigation is still open. Denean Stehling said she believes her husband might have been misled by a sign with an arrow directing hikers back to the museum.
“I think he walked down a different access trail near the sign,” she said. “We will continue to pressure the park to increase and expand their search efforts, and plan to organize our own searches as a family.”
She is seeking a presumed death certificate for her husband, and was recently struck by another tragedy when her home burned down.
“We lost almost all the pictures of Dale, but as tough as it’s been, life goes on,” Denean Stehling said.
Park officials say they do not suspect foul play, and there has been no sign of Mitchell Stehling since his disappearance in or out of the park.
“My gut feeling is that he is out there somewhere and never left the park. There is no reason to think otherwise – there have been no sightings,” said Jesse Farias, chief ranger for Mesa Verde, in March.
Mitchell Stehling had a cellphone with him, but no signals were obtained from it after his disappearance.
Dave Paulides, a filmmaker who produces documentaries and books on missing people, is involved in the project. This week, he has been interviewing park staff, including park Superintendent Cliff Spencer.
“Usually they find missing hikers at the park right away after searching, so the park and the family are frustrated,” Paulides said.
In the meantime, the documentary crew pushes forward. Associate producer Huey said her crew would shoot B roll, or supplementary footage, along Main Street throughout the week. On Tuesday, she went to several businesses to get permission to include them in the film.
She would not give details about the documentary during the filming process.
The crew also has a permit to film scenery and interview a park ranger at Mesa Verde. Dewey Higley, a concessions management specialist at Mesa Verde, said the park will remain open as normal during filming. The park’s filming guidelines require film crews to stay in areas that are open to the general public and prohibit any activity that could be risky for visitors. Interviews with park staff must be pre-approved.
Higley estimated the park usually gets around 20 filming applications a year.
“It’s a pretty popular location, but we don’t get overwhelmed,” he said.
Reporter Jim Mimiaga contributed to this article.