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Shenandoah National Park trails closed, agencies search for missing college student

Several parking areas are also reserved for Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel.

SHENANDOAH, Va. — Several agencies are searching a Virginia National Park for a missing 21-year-old George Mason University student.

Mateo Cobo Zevallos was last seen at his parents' home in Oakton, Virginia on May 5. He was reported missing the next day after he did not show up to class.

Claire Comer, a spokesperson for Shenandoah National Park, said a gray Honda belonging to Zevallos was found late Tuesday. Following a quick search, a full-scale search began early Wednesday. 

"Teams are out there doing a grid search. That means they are arms length apart and walking slowly looking up and down. They're looking for any clues, any evidence of someone having past that way," said Comer

So what exactly is a grid search?

"They actually create grids on maps and send teams out to different areas. Those areas are calculated by a very specific formula that gives us the highest area of probability based on data that's been gathered for decades," Comer explained.

She says "We choose those areas of high probability to send those teams too. Each team has GPS and of course radio communication and sometimes a dog team. Then we collect those data points when they return, so that we are sure of what area we have covered and where to start the next day".

She told WUSA9 the missing student's car was found at the Overall Run Falls Trailhead, but that they didn't find anything suspicious about it.

"It's quite common for cars to be parked at trailheads for weeks," she explained.

WUSA9 asked her what would lead to a search of this magnitude if this is something that is so common.

Comer told WUSA9 it's "because he was reported missing to the Fairfax County Police Department. Because he wasn't expected to be away his parents are understandably concerned". 

Zevallos is 21 years old with black hair and brown eyes. He is described as being about 5 feet 9 inches tall and 190 pounds. He was last seen wearing gray sweatpants, a gray, black and brown flannel shirt and a green North Face backpack.

Mateo's father Luis Cobo sent WUSA9 the following statement:

"The family thanks the authorities, media, and friends for their support in searching for Mateo. They kindly ask people to stay alert in case they see him, since they are waiting for him at home."

Comer told WUSA9 there are a lot of people searching for Mateo.

"There are numbers and numbers of people out there who are trying their best to locate Mateo. Many are giving their time as volunteers. There's no doubt that there's care and concern from those involved," she said.

She told WUSA9 the search will continue for as long as it's needed.

"Until we are sure that he can not be located, then the search will continue," said Comer.

Comer says the following trails and adjacent areas are closed as officials search for Zevallos:

  • Overall Run, Traces
  • Mathews Arm
  • Tuscarora
  • Beecher Ridge
  • Thompson Hollow

Several parking areas are also reserved for Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel.

Multiple agencies are working to search the national park, including the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Fairfax County Police, Virginia State Police, as well as numerous volunteer SAR organizations including Piedmont SAR, Blue Ridge Mountain Rescue Group, Old Rag Mountain Stewards, Virginia Rescue Dog Association, Christian Ministries SAR, SAR Tracking Institute, Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad, Shenandoah Mountain Rescue Group, Blue and Grey Rescue Dogs, TrotSAR, and K9 Alert.  

Anyone who may have information about Zevallos' whereabouts should contact police at 703-691-2131.

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