SALT LAKE CITY — Doug and Cindy Putnam walked into the Salt Lake City Police Department Friday morning, a day after making the long and now familiar drive from their home in Colorado the day before.
Would this meeting bring them closer to finding their only son?
"That could be him," Cindy Putnam said, after scrutinizing security tape footage from a local bar. She said this was another solid lead, another possible sighting.
It has been two months since Cindy Putnam fell into "a nightmare you never wake up from," which began when her son, 25-year-old Robin Putnam, disappeared in Salt Lake City. He was traveling by train from Oakland, Calif. to Grand Junction, Colo.
Cindy Putnam said the talented art student at California College of the Arts was looking forward to spending time with his parents and getting help for the increasingly severe mental health concerns that were taxing him physically and emotionally. She is "baffled" her son instead got off the train during a 3 a.m. stop in Salt Lake City and wasn't heard from again.
Fresh fliers are constantly being put up in the area, while advertisements have been running in Salt Lake City newspapers for about a month. Online, Facebook posts and a YouTube video of Cindy Putnam describing her son and his disappearance are passed around.
The campaign to spread the word is working, as many Utahns the family has never met have called asking how they can help or to simply let them know they are looking, Cindy Putnam said.
"It seems crazy that we haven't found him, because it seems like everyone is looking for him," she said.
Debilitating anxiety and panic attacks prompted the decision to bring Robin home, although Cindy Putnam said she doesn't know how severe his possible mental breakdown was.
Before leaving California, her son was having difficulty distinguishing between reality and the nightmares that haunted him, specifically those that his parents had died. Cindy Putnam said perhaps her son believes he is alone. She hopes someone in Utah will recognize him and tell him his parents love him and are searching for him.
"Tell him … 'your parents are desperately trying to find you,' and maybe that would snap him out of it," she said. "We can't imagine why he hasn't contacted us, except maybe he thinks something has happened to us because of that nightmare."
The Putnams, as well as their friends and relatives, have traveled back and forth to Salt Lake City, sometimes staying weeks at a time to follow up on possible sightings. Cindy Putnam said they often receive a tip a day. Recently callers have said a man believed to be Robin has been riding TRAX between downtown Salt Lake and Sandy, possibly spending time with a young woman.
On their trips to Utah, Doug Putnam drives the streets where his son has supposedly been, while Cindy Putnam looks on foot. They were out looking again Friday, starting their search near Jordan Commons in Sandy.
"We focus on the areas where the most substantial tips have come from," she said. "I just put my running shoes on, put a bunch of fliers in a fanny pack with some water and literally run up and down the streets hanging up fliers, handing them out, and looking for him."
Descriptions the family has received match not only Robin Putnam's physical appearance — over 6 feet tall and skinny with blue eyes and shaggy blond hair — but his personality and mannerisms as well. Cindy Putnam called her son shy, intellectual and sweet, and believes he is homeless, living and sleeping on the streets rather than seeking help at food banks or homeless shelters.
Tipsters have said the man believed to be Robin Putnam is polite and reluctant to accept handouts.
Salt Lake City Police said they are actively investigating more than 20 tips, with an officer who specializes in missing persons working on the case. The disappearance is a priority for the department because of the abnormalities in the case and Robin Putnam's mental health needs.
"We probably never would have generated nearly as many tips without their help," Sgt. Josh Ashdown of the Salt Lake City Police Dept. said of the parents efforts.
The two-month search has exhausted the Putnams financially as well as physically, as they leave their small businesses to search in Utah. Donations from Colorado neighbors have helped them keep looking while they try to keep their businesses afloat. Doug Putnam is a landscape contractor in Telluride, while his wife works in property management.
"We're just middle-class people, we don't have a lot of money," she said. "We have to try to keep our business together enough that when we find him, he has a place to come home to."
Cindy Putnam said the family of three has a close relationship. They enjoy hiking together, and Robin Putnam especially enjoys sharing music and discussing philosophy with his father. She is confident they will be reunited.
"I know we're going to find him," she said. "All of our focus is on finding him, and keeping ourselves together."
The Putnams are asking anyone who sees Robin Putnam to contact police, ask him his name or take a cell phone picture they can use to identify him. Pictures can be texted to Doug Putnam at 970-729-1653.
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