June 29, 2024 / Modified jul 9, 2024 1:39 p.m.

Daniel Robinson vanished 3 years ago. His father still hopes for his safe return

David Robinson says it’s been a difficult three years for him and his family after Daniel went missing from Buckeye, Ariz. on June 23, 2021.

Daniel Robinson missing NPR hero Daniel Robinson, 24, was last seen leaving a job site in Buckeye, Ariz., on June 23, 2021. Three years later, his father, David, continues the search for him.
The Family of Daniel Robinson

By Jonathan Franklin, heard on NPR Morning Edition

On a June morning three years ago, geologist Daniel Robinson left a job site in Buckeye, Ariz., driving his blue-gray Jeep Renegade. He was believed to be heading west into the desert from the Phoenix suburb.

The 24-year-old was reported missing later that day.

His father, David Robinson, describes Daniel as someone with a bold personality who could make friends easily. Daniel had a lot of confidence and would challenge everything.

“Daniel would go after whatever he wants. Very adventurous and loved to be a part of everything,” David Robinson told NPR.

Robinson says it’s been a difficult three years for him and his family after Daniel went missing on June 23, 2021.

He sums up the emotions of Daniel’s disappearance in one word: hurtful.

“For us as a family … every day we constantly have reminders, like you know, for birthdays, the holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, that Daniel is not present,” Robinson told NPR.

But ever since the day Daniel disappeared, the detectives with the Buckeye Police Department say they have been investigating to find answers about what exactly happened to him.

And despite leads from the public that have poured in, there have been no answers.

David Robinson, who has been working tirelessly to ensure that his son’s case isn’t forgotten, says he’s still fighting for answers three years after Daniel’s disappearance.

“There’s evidence out there. You just have to go look for it,” Robinson said. “I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can do to make sure that [the case] remains open.”

Foul play could be a possibility, his father says

Robinson says his son, who moved to Phoenix for a job as a field geologist after graduating from the College of Charleston in 2019, oversaw many sites in remote desert areas and often traveled long distances for work.

But no matter the time or distance between Robinson, living in Columbia, S.C., and his son, the conversations between the two were consistent, and were rarely brief.

“Every time we talk, it was always a two-hour conversation,” Robinson said.

Daniel was last seen just after 9 a.m. June 23 leaving his work site at a well in Buckeye. According to the Buckeye Police Department, his Jeep was found by a landowner in a desert ravine on July 19, less than a month after being last seen.

Detectives with the police department reported that the Jeep had “significant damage” and had not been clearly visible to search crews because of the rough terrain.

Daniel’s clothes, his cellphone, wallet, and keys were found at the scene, and foul play was not suspected, given the state of his car, authorities said. But three years later, Daniel is still missing.

The Buckeye Police Department declined NPR’s request for an interview for this story.

But in a statement, the department said it is “committed to locating Daniel Robinson and getting answers for his loved ones,” adding that detectives continue to investigate “every tip and lead” reported to them.

The department said that while there is no evidence of foul play in relation to Daniel’s disappearance, it does not make his case “any less important.”

Daniel’s father says he believes that foul play did play a role in his son’s disappearance. He says that even with the many searches he has helped coordinate and the family hiring a private investigator, there are still things that just don’t add up.

New evidence found by the private investigator, Robinson said, included additional paint damage on Daniel’s vehicle along with the Jeep being cranked dozens of times after the crash — all suggesting possible foul play.

“After the airbags came out, somebody turned that ignition over at least 46 more times. That’s not normal,” Jeff McGrath, an accident reconstructionist and private investigator hired by the Robinson family, told local TV station KPNX in 2021.

“What we found on that scene, my investigator gave evidence — physical evidence — of foul play,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of evidence of foul play. We just don’t know … what exactly happened to Daniel. But we do know the [crime] scene is not right."

“The passion to help others, just like they helped me”

Robinson says he is getting the word out about his case in any way possible, including a virtual event called Bring America Home that raised awareness for Daniel’s case and other families with missing loved ones.

And with 2024 marking the third year since Daniel’s disappearance, Robinson is taking his efforts to find his son one step further: by running for Congress.

Robinson, an Army veteran, announced his plans to run for Congress in his home state of South Carolina in March. If elected, he says he plans to push for making the process easier for families to find their missing loved ones.

One idea, he says, would be to improve the way phone records are approached. Robinson said he would propose legislation that would give the person paying the bill immediate access to the data in an emergency situation, such as a missing persons case.

“I’ve been doing 49 weeks of desert searches for my son, talking to other family members out there who actually even had missing loved ones of their own, but yet, are out in the desert with me,” he said.

“That gave me a passion to help others, just like they helped me,” he added.

Alongside his bid for Congress, he says he will continue to return to Arizona to work with law enforcement to search for his son.

“I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can do to make sure that Daniel’s case remains open and does not become a cold case,” he said.

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