PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. — Brian Harris needed help.
The 38-year-old military veteran had been struggling for some time with mental health problems and the crisis reached a breaking point last summer, resulting in Harris' family taking him to a hospital.
His mother, Peggy, drove him down to the Veteran Affairs facilities. He was later transferred to a hospital in southern Arizona to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
Brian's family claims he asked the facility's staff to place him in a treatment center, but he ended up getting discharged and was sent back to Prescott Valley.
His relatives continued to monitor Brian's behavior and he seemed to be making improvements. He even asked his family to go on a camping trip.
Brian's family advised they'd be available to go camping on a later date, yet Brian proceeded to begin purchasing an assortment of outdoor supplies.
Then he vanished -- making no contact with family, leaving no sign of where he may have gone.
Almost one year later, the Harris family is still haunted by the mystery of trying to figure out what happened to Brian.
"I cry myself to sleep a lot," his mother told 12 News.
Ghosts of War
Brian's story dates back much further from July 2021, when he was first reported missing to Prescott Valley police.
His family said Brian's problems seemingly began after returning from completing two combat tours in Iraq. The military veteran struggled to readjust to civilian life and would fall into bouts of depression that involved signs of suicidal ideation.
"There's a lot of stuff that I think has led up to him feeling suicidal," Peggy Harris recalled.
Brian is not alone in his struggles.
Nearly 16% of all service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have screened positively for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
Since 2006, there's been an 86% increase in suicide rates among male veterans between 18 and 34. And more than 114,000 veterans have died by suicide over the last two decades, according to the nonprofit Stop Soldier Suicide.
But Brian's family said he would periodically experience moments of stability and made attempts to leave behind his memories of war. He enrolled in classes, tried working a couple of jobs, and started attending church.
"For a while, he felt pretty normal," Peggy added. "He would feel good, and then he'd go off his medication thinking he didn't really need it."
Then Brian would fall back down a dark hole again.
Up and Vanished
After Brian's last stint at a VA facility in southern Arizona last summer, his family made sure to keep a close watch on him.
The VA staff gave him one week worth's of medication and made a follow-up appointment for Brian at the facility in Prescott.
Brian spent the following days at his parents' house and became intrigued by television shows about people attempting to survive out in the wilderness.
He proposed the idea of his family taking a camping trip. Brian's parents told him they could all go camping at a later date.
The evening of July 11 ended with Brian going back to his residence in Prescott Valley. He hugged his mom and promised to call her the next day.
"I never heard from him again," Brian's mom said.
Peggy got a call a few days later from a VA staff member who informed her that Brian had missed an appointment. The VA then reported Brian missing to local police.
Prescott Valley police spent the following weeks interviewing Brian's neighbors, attempted to search his phone records, and asked surrounding agencies to be on the lookout for Brian.
His family discovered several receipts in Brian's home that showed he had recently purchased several outdoor supplies, suggesting he may have gone camping on his own.
Investigators additionally checked in with the VA to see if Brian had sought treatment without telling his family.
"(The VA) looked through their database and advised that Brian was not at any VA location according to their system," Prescott Valley police wrote in a report.
The VA told investigators that Brian would be flagged in their system, meaning he'd be listed as a missing person if he checked into a VA facility.
Car found in California
In October 2021, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office reported finding Brian's 1983 Chevrolet Suburban abandoned on a dirt road near Needles, Calif.
The Sheriff's Office said there were no signs of foul play observed around Brian's vehicle and no trace of Brian himself.
After the Sheriff's Office processed the vehicle and turned it over to the Harris family, some items were discovered by his relatives that aroused suspicion.
His mother reported finding a Powerade bottle that had a wristband and a military velcro badge stuffed inside. The randomness of the items made it appear to Brian's family that he may have intentionally placed them there.
"Was he trying to leave us a clue that something happened that was against his will?" Peggy Harris said.
But there haven't been many questions answered since Brian's car was discovered.
The family's begun communicating with organizations that specialize in locating missing people by conducting drone searches.
And his relatives have given DNA samples to investigators, hoping they might be used to identify any possible remains located out in the wilderness.
Yet it's still not quite clear to investigators or Brian's family what happened to him between the time he left Arizona and when his car was found in California.
Did he take his own life? Did he get lost? Or does Brian simply not want to be found by anyone?
Whatever the answer might be, the Harris family just wants to find a resolution and escape the feeling of being left in the dark.
Anyone with information about Brian's case can contact the Prescott Valley Police Department at 928-772-9267 or Yavapai County Silent witness at 1-800-932-3232.
Up to Speed
Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12 News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.