Former Globetrotter, Rico Harris, 42, vanished without a trace from the Cache Creek Regional Park in northern California on a warm evening on October 10, 2014. His mysterious disappearance continues to baffle authorities.
Harris was born on May 19, 1977, to parents Margaret Fernandez who was a caregiver to the elderly, and Henry Harris, a semiprofessional basketball player. The firstborn of four children, his early childhood was chaotic due to his father’s abusiveness, his parents’ divorce, and several moves, first to Oregon, then to Los Angeles, and finally to Alhambra, California.
Growing up Rico was soft-spoken and bashful, and he was thought of like a gentle giant. Friends and family remember him as always having a smile. He wanted to help others and was described as very hardworking. His dream, was to become a professional basketball player.
He felt becoming a pro basketball player would help him give his mother a better life, who struggled to raise four children and hold down miscellaneous jobs. To pursue his dream, he attended Temple City High School and joined their basketball team. He quickly became the star player of the school.
After graduating high school, Rico attended Arizona State University (ASU), which accepted him even though he had very poor academic performance. Still, scholarship offers rolled in for one for the country’s top 10 recruits. UCLA wanted Harris, Connecticut wanted him, and Kentucky wanted him.
He had the opportunity to play for several NCAA basketball programs, but between personal and academic obstacles, those opportunities never materialized. To add to his problems while at ASU, he was arrested with two others on suspicion of imprisonment, but he was never charged.
Rico then transferred to Los Angeles City College where he led the team to its first national championship title but then transferred once again to Cal-State Northridge.
However, in the spring of 2000, Rico joined the Harlem Globetrotters. His skills were the ideal for the shows and he seemed to have found his niche.
A month after joining the Globetrotters, he was out driving with friends in South Los Angeles and got into a dispute with people and got hit in the head with a baseball bat. Soon after the head injury, he began complaining of severe headaches and balance issues and had to leave the Globetrotters. At 24 years old, his basketball career was over . . . and he was lost.
“I saw firsthand Rico could have had a million-dollar check, easy, easy, easy,” said Chris Thompson, a long-time friend, and teammate at L.A. City College. “Something happened to my brother in his spirit that didn’t allow him to break through the ceiling.”
During 2001 through 2007, Rico had numerous appearances in Superior Court for everything from burglary and trespassing to public intoxication. He finally hit “rock bottom” and overdosed on prescription medication. Rico then decided to enter rehab at Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center where he remained sober and had a job for approximately 7 years.
While working private security at a nightclub in Los Angeles, Rico met his girlfriend Jennifer. Jennifer Song was an insurance broker from Seattle, Washington. They began a long-distance relationship and visited each other on weekends for several years.
Rico began moving his things to Seattle in 2014, as he planned to marry Jennifer. Adjusting, in the beginning, was difficult for Rico. Jennifer noticed a significant change in Rico’s behavior in September 2014, so she confronted him about his sobriety. He then admitted he had relapsed in July.
Days Leading Up to Disappearance
On October 8, 2014, Rico told Jennifer that he wanted to adventure around Seattle while she went to work out at the gym. Upon returning home at approximately 8:00 p.m. that evening, Rico still wasn’t home, so she sent a text and learned he was traveling through Oregon on his way back to Alhambra.
Rico arrived at his mother’s home at 2:00 p.m., on October 9. She was concerned because Rico didn’t sleep the entire time he was there, and she thought he had been drinking. She was going to insist Rico sleep before heading back to Seattle the following day but didn’t have the chance.
After being up for nearly 40 hours straight, Rico left on October 10 at approximately 1:00 a.m. to embark on a 1,100-mile road trip from Alhambra back to Seattle.
Jennifer called Rico’s cell at approximately 8 a.m., and he told her he was in Sacramento getting fuel. Both Margaret and Jennifer tried to call Rico the remainder of the day but there was no answer. Finally, at 10:44 a.m., Rico sent a text to Jennifer apologizing for missing her call.
That would be the last call or text she would receive.
When Rico never arrived at Jennifer’s home, she became worried. At around 8:00 p.m. Jennifer called Rico’s mother to ask her to file a missing person report, but they decided to wait.
However, on October 12, a sheriff’s deputy in Yolo County was conducting a routine check of a parking lot in a place called Lower Site, a remote rest area in Cache Creek Regional Park, approximately 6 hours from Los Angeles. During the lot inspection, he saw a black Nissan Maxima parked off to the side but passed by and didn’t think too much of it until he spotted the same car the following day. He ran the plates and discovered it was registered to Rico Harris and called the Alhambra Police Department.
Alhambra police officers went to Margaret’s house and told her that it had been found abandoned hundreds of miles away. Panicked, Margaret then called Jennifer who immediately filed a missing person report launching an official investigation.
According to the family, the 6-foot-nine, 280-pound former Globetrotter also suffers from bi-polar, and they were very concerned about his well-being.
Law enforcement immediately contacted Rico’s cell phone provider and requested recent pings that would direct them to the approximate location of Rico’s cell phone and found it pinged in the Redwood Valley area, nearly 70 miles away from where Rico’s car was found. Police proceeded to contact everyone that lived in the area.
When authorities inspected Rico’s vehicle, they discovered it was out of gas and the battery was dead. They also found his Washington state driver’s license and his credit card. Detectives then wondered if Rico had even driven the car to where it had been abandoned or if somebody else had. The car was processed for fingerprints and DNA.
A search and rescue team comprised of ATVs and an aircraft with heat-sensing camera on board, was assigned to the area and searched a 50-mile radius around the parking lot and 27 miles along Route 16 through the rugged canyon and a two-lane road that winds through Capay Valley’s steep hills and organic farms, about a hour northwest of Sacramento.
No trace of Rico was ever found in the woods or on the road but authorities did find very large footprints and inserts from tennis shoes down by Cache Creek which meant he was the one who drove his vehicle there.
Police used cadaver dogs from a volunteer group but nothing. Authorities scaled back the search by the end of October.
(A witness called police to tell them he had found Rico Harris’s cell phone inside a backpack alongside Route 16, in Redwood Valley, California.)
A promising lead came in from a man who said he had found Rico’s cellphone inside a backpack alongside the road in Redwood Valley.
When police went to pick up the backpack, they only had more questions. At the location where it was found, there was no sign of a struggle and they were baffled as to why Rico would have left it there. Inside were jumper cables, some clothing, and bottles of what was believed to be alcohol. Police began to speculate that possibly Rico went down by the creek, came back up to the road at a different location, and left his backpack there.
Searches continued for several days on nearby fire roads and canyons, to include the creek, but no trace of Rico was ever found.
Once reports of Rico’s disappearance hit the news, dozens of witnesses called the Yolo County Sheriff. One witness said he has seen a very large individual walking on a cattle guard near the bushes near the parking lot where his vehicle was eventually found. Another said he saw a man matching Rico’s description walking southbound on Highway 16. Three more came in from Redwood Valley further indicating that Rico had hitchhiked there.
A Mother’s Hope
Margaret Fernandez, Rico Harris’s mother, admits the Rico she knew was long missing way before the police report was made. She had spent years watching her son fade away as his dreams dampened.
In the aftermath of her son’s disappearance, Margaret went into a deep depression that left her devastated. What did help her though, was speaking to other families of missing persons to share their stories and personal experiences. Missing person organizations like Black & Missing have offered resources to help raise awareness of Rico’s disappearance by distributing Rico’s missing person flyer through social media platforms and offering emotional support.
Jennifer and Margaret have also become closer since Rico’s disappearance, calling each other nearly every day and seeing each other frequently.
“This is a pain that’s deep, that goes down to your core,” Margaret said while tears stream down her face. “It’s like you are on a merry-go-round and can’t get off. Nothing is going to quiet the pain . . . he could still be alive. Maybe he’s not. I don’t know what the truth is. I don’t know. People don’t just vanish.”
Margaret still holds onto her son’s clothing in bins –waiting on his return.
However, each time Margaret’s flip-phone rings she gets a sinking feeling in her gut. While she wants her son found, she dreads hearing the worst.