Daniel Robinson, a 24-year-old geologist, was last seen driving his Jeep near a job site in the Arizona desert on the morning of June 23.
One month later, the Jeep was found, crashed on its side in a ravine about four miles from where he was last seen.
His clothes, phone, keys and wallet were all inside. Robinson was not.
In late July, a human skull was found south of the vehicle, but it was not his, and no other human remains have been found nearby.
A new national spotlight has been brought to Robinson’s strange disappearance amid efforts to find out what happened to Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old “van life” blogger who disappeared on a road trip with her fiancé and was later found dead in rural Wyoming.
Critics swiftly pointed out how Petito, a young white woman, has been the subject of wall-to-wall news coverage, while people of color who go missing — like Robinson, a Black man — rarely receive the same kind of attention. In Petito’s case, the coverage prompted a flood of tips that eventually led authorities to her body.
“You wish you lived in a world where everything was equal, but it’s really not equal,” Robinson’s father, David Robinson, told CNN this week. He said he sympathizes with the Petito family, while also feeling that the onslaught of media attention paid to her case has been “hurtful.”
Robinson’s family members say the Buckeye Police Department, which is handling his case, has had so little success that they have had to crowdfund search efforts themselves. A GoFundMe page set up for Robinson, was born without a right hand, has raised more than three times its initial goal, funding private investigation services and supplies for volunteers willing to search the desert.
Robinson had kept a rock collection growing up, and landed a job as a field geologist outside of Phoenix after graduating college in 2019. The job kept him moving around between sites in the desert heat, his father wrote on GoFundMe.
There are still few clues relating to his disappearance. Buckeye police say they helped conduct searches over 70 square miles using all-terrain vehicles, cadaver dogs, a drone and a helicopter, and that they pulled phone records for Robinson and checked hospitals.
The department told local outlets that it does not suspect foul play, despite the bizarre condition in which Robinson’s Jeep Renegade was found in the desert.
A rancher noticed the vehicle on July 19; it appeared to have rolled over and sustained significant damage before coming to rest on its side with its airbags deployed. Robinson had been last seen by a coworker driving west, further into the desert, at 9:15 a.m. local time, nearly a month before.
According to a police report released this week, Robinson had been acting oddly at the job site prior to his disappearance — an observation echoed by family members. Family also told police that some photos Robinson posted to Instagram appear to have been deleted since he went missing.
His father has said that his son always liked to check in with his family in South Carolina, and it was unusual not to hear from him for even half a day.
“Once his vehicle was found … it just didn’t look right,” David Robinson said. “It didn’t sit right with me.”
The police department said this week that it is “consulting outside experts for enhanced analysis of data from Daniel’s vehicle.”
“They’re trying to do what’s right at this point but I feel that it’s a little too late,” Robinson’s older brother, Roger Cawley-Robinson, told CNN. “If they had been quick about it in the beginning, we wouldn’t be here three months later.”
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