While most think of a community as a group of people living in the same area, the community that came together last year to search for a missing runner transcended geographic boundaries. That community was built on common values of social responsibility and compassion and a common goal -- find Philip Kreycik.
Though Kreycik, his wife and two young children lived in Berkeley, news of the 37-year-old Kreycik’s disappearance in Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park on July 10, 2021, spread rapidly through the Tri-Valley.
Over the three-plus week search, thousands of people -- including law enforcement personnel from multiple Bay Area agencies and more than 800 volunteers -- pulled together and continued exhaustive searches for the missing runner, even weeks after the official search effort was significantly scaled back.
Pleasanton resident David Selinger marked the one-year anniversary of the day Kreycik went missing with a beautifully written social media post in which he acknowledged the many people who helped with the search -- from Pleasanton Police Department, which was there minutes after Kreycik’s wife, Jen Yao, reported Kreycik missing, to community volunteers who searched the park, to those who supported the searchers.
Selinger wrote, "They all showed up. No one made them. No one asked them, but they all showed up. They all gave everything they had to find Philip, to give 100% to give this family what they knew they needed. We didn't succeed, but we did see some of the best of humanity in the 30 days that followed."
Hundreds of volunteers spent hours searching the park on foot, horseback and mountain e-bikes. Dog handlers brought their dogs. Amateur and professional drone operators took footage.
Many volunteers who didn’t search contributed in other very important ways.
Sandy Schneider, one of the core group of search coordinators and an admin for the “Find Philip Kreycik” Facebook group, said, "Everyone’s donation of time or food or whatever it was that they brought to the table, everyone was doing it from the goodness of their own hearts.There were no strings attached. There was nobody expecting anything from anybody."
People did bring many different things to the table. Some made sandwiches for searchers. Some studied drone footage. Some posted flyers. Kids had lemonade stands to raise awareness and money for donations for food.
One family in Valley Trails opened up their backyard for a barbecue for the volunteers, which gave the hardworking group a chance to “take a break and bond,” Schneider said.
Pleasanton restaurants and grocery stores stepped up to donate food and water for the hundreds of searchers. Grocery Outlet was the first to donate food and water, and they were soon joined by Inklings Cafe, Costco, Mr. Pickles, Porky's Pizza, Pizza Bello, Safeway, Lucky California, Gene's Fine Foods and Raley's.
Pleasanton’s Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt House hotels didn’t hesitate to provide rooms for Kreycik’s family members at no cost for as long as necessary, which was a little over three weeks.
The official search was significantly scaled back five or six days in, and eventually called off after authorities said 100% of the park had been searched. But volunteers kept going.
"The volunteer team never gave up. We never said we were going to stop. We just kept going," said Schneider, saying they had a goal of finding Kreycik, which they did.
The sad discovery of human remains later identified as Kreycik was made on Aug. 3 by a volunteer searching on their own. It was determined he likely died the day he went missing.
Schneider credited Betsy Everett from Fremont, who worked with law enforcement agencies and volunteers to make sure all areas were searched, for eventually finding Kreycik.
"We needed to coordinate who was going up, when they were going up, where they were going up, mapping it out, plotting it out, making sure they were coming back and debriefing for all these amateur volunteers, checking them off so we didn’t lose anybody," Schneider said. "Betsy coordinated that. She’s a star."
"There was this one little square area that had not been searched and Betsy figured that out because she had plotted all the areas," Schneider continued. "(Volunteers) finally decided to go up there and look at that one little square area that was just off the path, and that’s where they found him."
Lt. Ray Kelly from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said the search for Kreycik was the largest search for a missing person in the state at the time he went missing and one of the largest searches in Alameda County history.
"We had a tremendous amount of law enforcement personnel and community volunteers come together," Kelly said, adding that he knows people who have volunteered in searches for 30 or 40 years and this was the largest search for a missing person they remember in terms of resources and energy.
"On the one-year anniversary, we want to thank everyone who came out to help," Kelly said. "This was an outstanding example of community engagement, and an example of the type of response we need in situations like this, when community members come together to help."
"We still think fondly of Philip and his family and hope they are healing," Kelly said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them."
The family -- Philip’s widow, Yao, parents Keith and Marcia Kreycik and sister Clare -- made an impression on everyone.
"I don’t know how they managed to do what they did, with the calm and the grace that they had," Schneider said. "They were so grateful for what we had done in this community. They were just so humble and so grateful. You rarely meet people like that. They had no expectations of anybody."
On Aug. 5, 2021, Kreycik’s widow expressed that gratitude in a post on the Find Philip Kreycik Facebook page.
"We can't possibly ever express our gratitude and appreciation enough to truly acknowledge what you have done and are still doing for us," Yao wrote. "The effort of the last few weeks is the greatest demonstration of collaboration, selflessness, care, and kindness that humanity has to offer in the face of an unimaginably difficult situation…"
The family continues to grieve, of course, but so do people who never knew Kreycik in life, like the volunteers.
According to Schnieder, "There’s a big hole left in a lot of people’s hearts."
In his post, Selinger summed up what many feel on this anniversary when he wrote, “I found a new family in a way. My heart aches for the Kreycik family knowing that there is nothing we can do to change this outcome; but I also look forward knowing that somehow Philip's last act was to bring together a new, strong family" to support the Kreyciks going forward.
"I will look forward emboldened with love for all of these people and I hope that we all can live with such love in our hearts."
Editor's note: Gina Channell Wilcox has been the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media Group's East Bay Division since 2006. Her "Around the Valley" column runs the first and third Fridays of the month.