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Search operations for missing man halted

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Personnel from the Chaves County Sheriff's Office, along with volunteers from other agencies, at a command post off Perimeter Road west of Roswell Friday afternoon. Deputies, in collaboration with volunteers, were actively searching for Raphael Campuzano after a vehicle he had been driving was found early Thursday. (Alex Ross Photo)

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Rafael Campuzano (Submitted Photo)

The Chaves County Sheriff’s Office and volunteers from other agencies suspended their search Friday for a Roswell man they had been actively searching for since Thursday.

Undersheriff Charles Yslas said late Friday that while 37-year-old Rafael Campuzano of Roswell is still officially considered a missing person, and law enforcement still hopes to gather additional leads, the decision was made to end the operations being conducted off Perimeter Road and west of the Roswell Air Center.

Yslas said the decision was made based on the amount of time and ground covered in the search, the harsh terrain and some wind, hail and rain that pounded the area late Friday.

The rain, he added, made it difficult for individuals to enter and exit some areas, and washed away footprints and other clues teams were using to try and locate Campuzano.

Some 60 to 70 personnel from multiple agencies participated in the search operations, including the Sheriffs Office, Chaves County Search and Rescue, the New Mexico State Police Search and Rescue Team, New Mexico Mounted Patrol and Border Patrol recruits from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia.

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With the help of a canine provided by Border Patrol and a helicopter from Care Flight, law enforcement agencies were able to cover 12 square miles, but Campuzano could still not be found.

Campuzano was last seen around midnight Thursday by family, reportedly distraught and telling them that he wanted to go out into the desert. Later that morning a red Toyota Tacoma pickup truck was found parked off Perimeter Road, prompting a mobile incident command center to be set up in the area. Searchers scoured the area between 9 a.m. Thursday and about 2 a.m. Friday, before resuming Friday at 6 a.m.

Yslas said Campuzano, because of a combination of medical issues, his emotional state and the lack of food and shelter in the area, is considered an “endangered individual” similar to a hunter, camper or hiker missing in the wilderness or who is injured.

Yslas said the search had yielded some leads earlier in the day, including a string of tennis shoe prints that stretched for about two miles from where the pickup was found. He added that Campuzano’s family confirmed he had been wearing tennis shoes when he was last seen.

Because the harsh terrain is not a place where an individual wears tennis shoes, Yslas said, it was believed the prints belonged to Campuzano. Ranchers in the area were made aware of the situation, Yslas said, some of whom had the footprints reach onto their private land.

Yslas said the public should still keep a lookout for Campuzano and it is hoped that he might have reached another road and received a ride from someone. People with information about Campuzano or his whereabouts should contact the Sheriff’s Office at 575-624-6500.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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