Search called off for missing Rainier School resident

Release Date: 
Feb 03 2020
DSHS Office of Communications
Lisa Copeland
(360) 902-7844


OLYMPIA – Since Friday, Jan. 31, the Department of Social and Health Services, Buckley Police Department and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office have been looking for Rainier School resident Joel Wellman, who walked away from the residential habilitation center in Buckley for persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities around 6 p.m.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office officially called off the search Monday.

“We are truly devastated by our client’s disappearance,” said Megan DeSmet, Rainier School superintendent. “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.”

DeSmet said DSHS will continue to work with local law enforcement as well as conduct its own in-depth investigation of what transpired.

Since Friday, the focus has been on Wellman’s safe return. He is a 29-year-old white male who is 6 feet 1 inch tall, weighs 225 pounds and has brown hair and green eyes.

Over the weekend, more than 100 people searched the wooded area that surrounds Rainier School. In addition to professional search and rescue teams, members of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the Buckley Police Department, the Muckleshoot Tribe and Kittitas, Kitsap, Snohomish, King and Thurston counties assisted. Community volunteers also aided in the search.

“We appreciate all of the first responders and volunteers who have spent countless hours looking for Joel,” added DeSmet. “Their commitment and professionalism is remarkable and I know they share our devastation.”

Stormy weather that included strong winds, heavy rains and even snow complicated the effort, which was only safe to conduct during daylight hours.