The death of a 29-year-old man who was shot in the head and left in the woods outside Pagosa Springs has officially been ruled a homicide, according to the Archuleta County Coroner.
“We ruled this young man did not take his own life,” said Dan Keuning. “This was death by another hand.”
On Aug. 23, 2016, the remains of Andrew Donald Chacon – who was living in Pagosa Springs – were found east of town along Mill Creek Road, about six to eight miles from Colorado Highway 84.
It is believed Chacon’s remains were in the forest for at least a year before they were found in the remote area. Subsequent searches turned up 52 items of interest, including personal clothing, shoes and sunglasses.
An autopsy found that Chacon died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head, but it was uncertain of whether it was self-inflicted or a result of foul play.
About two weeks ago, Keuning, along with a forensic pathologist, determined Chacon’s death was a homicide. Keuning said the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office was informed sometime last week.
Several factors went into the homicide ruling, Keuning said.
“When looking at the cause and manner of his death, there was no gun found in the investigation,” he said. “Only the hole in the back of the skull.”
And, Keuning pointed out the glaring lack of public response in the case. Over the winter, Undersheriff Tonya Hamilton said the investigation was running short on leads.
“We’re still pursuing what leads we have and trying to make contact with any and all people who were friends or had dealings with him,” Hamilton told The Durango Herald at that time. “But that list is getting shorter and shorter.”
Hamilton said Thursday there are no new developments in the Chacon case.
“We still have some leads we’re following up on,” Hamilton said. “The investigation continues.”
According to a former friend, Chacon moved to Pagosa Springs in 2011. After running into problems with drugs and addiction at his home in Ventura County, California, Chacon set out for Colorado, where his family owned a second home, hoping for a fresh start.
“He was definitely having a hard time, and was trying to clean himself up,” said Pablo Martinez. “But otherwise, he liked to work and was trying to get his own place. I liked him. He was a good guy.”
Daniel Ross said Chacon dated his sister, and became “like a brother” to him, even after the two broke up. However, Ross said Chacon became increasingly stressed and paranoid in 2014, at times claiming someone was after him.
“When people (get involved in drugs), they change,” Ross said. “I think he got caught up in that situation.”
Still, no one has been able to pinpoint when Chacon went missing, though it’s generally considered among those interviewed for this story that he was last seen around Pagosa Springs in summer 2015.
“If you’re considered a local around here, which he was at that point, everyone knows who you are, so it’s odd he just disappeared,” Martinez said. “I’m surprised nobody has mentioned at some point who was after him.”
According to childhood friend Richie Velasco, Chacon was adopted by a caring, upper-middle class family that lived in Oxnard, California. The family did not return the Herald’s requests to comment.
“He was with them since he was a baby,” Velasco said. “They cared for him so much, and they were about him doing the best he can.”
Chacon was in and out of trouble throughout his early adulthood. In an effort to turn things around, he joined the U.S. Army around 2009, Velasco said. But when he returned home about two years later, he fell into his old ways.
“He said my parents have this place out in Colorado, and I’m going to move,” Velasco said.
While living in Pagosa Springs, Chacon worked various restaurant jobs, including at Martinez’s old restaurant, Pablo’s Café, the now closed Elkhorn Café and the Alley House Grille.
“As an employee here, we all loved him,” Jaymie Gallegos, an employee at Alley House Grille, said in September. “He had a great attitude. We’re all pretty sad about it.”
Some friends suspected Chacon started dealing, on top of taking, harder drugs – particularly prescription medication, heroin and methamphetamine – and ran into trouble with the wrong people.
“The drugs are here, of course, they just aren’t mentioned,” Martinez said. “But there have been some other crazy things that have happened out here.”
Despite Chacon’s battle with drug addiction, friends from that time recall him as a good person at heart, someone willing to “give the shirt of his back” to anyone in need.
“He just had such a huge heart for other people,” said Ross’ wife, Suelenna Perea Ross. “Andrew didn’t deserve anything that happened to him, and I pray to God they find out who hurt him because his family and friends deserve closure and peace.”
The Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office has said previously that Chacon had a criminal past, but they didn’t suspect it played a part in his disappearance. His family reportedly told law enforcement it wasn’t unusual not to hear from Chacon for long periods, which is why they didn’t report him as missing.
Anyone with information about the investigation is asked to call Detective Sgt. Warren Brown at 264-8499 or visit Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office Crimestoppers website at archuletacounty.crimestoppersweb.com.
A $1,000 reward is offered to the person with information that leads to an arrest.