By zev blumenfeld
An idling Honda Accord — its windows rolled down, a cellphone left inside, coins scattered across the front seat — was the last known location of Running Springs resident Christopher Booker before he went missing on June 9.
His sedan was found, parked along Highway 18, in front of the Skyforest Inn, leaving friends and family with many unanswered questions.
Earlier on June 9, Booker was confirmed to have been working for a company called Expert Mountain Tree Services. That day, Booker and his colleagues had been working in the Cedarpines Park area. Multiple sources said Booker ate lunch at Goodwin and Son’s Market in Crestline with his boss and one other colleague.
He finished his lunch at approximately 11:30 a.m. At this point, he phoned his fiancée, Brittany Elsner, who was at home with the couple’s 3-year-old son.
“I had talked to him on his lunch break that day. Everything seemed pretty normal,” Elsner said.
“He said, ‘I just want you to know that I’m thinking about you, I love you and give the baby a kiss for me.’”
Elsner recalled asking him to pick up some groceries after work, at which point, Booker said he needed to return home first and pick up a debit card since he didn’t have cash on hand.
But between 8 and 9 p.m., when Booker still had not arrived home, Elsner said she grew worried. She called his phone, and a woman answered.
The woman was a guest staying at the Skyforest Inn. The guest had noticed the empty, idling sedan, went to look inside and found Booker’s cellphone.
Booker, Elsner and their son had moved to Running Springs in March.
Without any local acquaintances to give her a ride to the car, Elsner said she eventually phoned Booker’s boss at Expert Mountain Tree Services, Michael Berry.
Berry offered to borrow a car seat his brother owned, pick Elsner and her son up in Running Springs and drive them to Booker’s car. However, Elsner said that she didn’t want to disturb Berry’s brother late at night, but voiced concern that, if they waited until the morning, the car might get impounded.
An alternative was agreed upon — Berry drove to the Skyforest Inn, transferred to Booker’s car and drove it to Elsner’s residence. Then, Elsner, her son and Berry rode back to his vehicle.
By the time Elsner returned home, she said it was after midnight.
“I immediately started going through his phone, trying to figure out if he called anyone or if he texted anybody,” Elsner said. “[I was] just trying to gather as much data from the phone as I could.”
She mentioned she found texts on Booker’s phone sent earlier that morning to his brother and a friend. In the texts, Booker expressed his love for each of them and said he was “sorry.”
The Inn’s staff later confirmed with Elsner that Booker’s car had been there since around 3:30 p.m.
On Wednesday, June 10, Elsner contacted the authorities and reported Booker missing. Deputies from the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station began a missing person investigation that day, dispatching three vehicles to Elsner’s home in Running Springs.
The deputies have since performed multiple searches of the area. On June 11, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Rim of the World Search and Rescue Team and the Sheriff’s Department K9 Division were deployed to conduct a detailed search of the area where Booker’s vehicle was located, according to a press release from the department.
The K9 unit found a scent; however, the trail quickly ended.
On June 12 and June 20, the sheriff’s department conducted additional searches, but no further clues were found. Local cinematographer David Arnold performed a flyover search with his drone, as well.
On Father’s Day, June 21, volunteers canvassed the foothill cities, posting flyers. Led by Booker’s friends Roni Kosmal and Jorge Solorzano, the volunteer groups covered areas between Redlands and Fontana.
“We’re trying to focus on the cities in case he took a bus down. Homeless encampments, shelters, 24-hour 7-Elevens, donut shops — those types of places,” Kosmal said. “It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But we’re just trying to cover all of our bases.”
Volunteers corresponded with soup kitchens, homeless shelters, hospitals and churches.
Signs and yellow ribbons with the hashtag #FINDCHRISBOOKER were posted.
Booker’s friend Roberto Chavez also helped organize independent search efforts.
“He is a sweet, kind-hearted man who is lovely to be around. He’s always upbeat anytime I’ve been around him and a loving father,” Chavez said.
A prayer vigil was held at St. Richard’s Episcopal Church, in Skyforest, at 7 p.m. Community members and members of Elsner’s family spoke. After the praying concluded, the group posted a sign containing a picture of Booker with written messages at the guardrail near where the car was found.
In addition to the couple’s 3-year-old son, Booker has a 10-year-old son.
Booker is 35 years old. He is 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs approximately 200 pounds.
“People describe him as a ‘gentle giant’ and that’s a fitting description,” Kosmal said. “He and Brit really love each other.”
Anyone with information about Booker’s whereabouts is asked to contact Detective Eric Trujillo at the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station at (909) 336-0600. Callers wishing to remain anonymous may contact WeTip at 800-78CRIME or www.wetip.com.