TWENTYNINE PALMS — Going out for a hike in Joshua Tree National Park, Paul Miller told his wife he would be back at their hotel in time for 11 a.m. checkout. It was July 13, 2018 — the last time Stephanie Miller saw her husband of 26 years.
On Tuesday, Jan. 14, the county coroner’s office told Stephanie Miller that remains found late last year had been confirmed as her husband’s. Paul Miller, 51, had been found.
The coroner has not yet released a cause of death.
Stephanie and the couple’s son, Dryden, traveled from their home in Ontario, Canada, to Twentynine Palms this week, prepared for the news, family friend Ainsley Otten said.
In interviews in the past year and a half, Stephanie Miller expressed hope that her husband might be alive somewhere in the world.
“Until you give me proof that something else has happened to him, I have to believe that he’s still out there, who knows where,” she told Canadian news station Newstalk 1010 last year.
But by December 2019, Miller’s loved ones were hoping for closure.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed, as strange as that may sound. We are hoping that it’s Paul because it’s been a long year and a half,” Miller’s sister, Dawne Robinson, told CTV News in Canada.
Stephanie provided a statement to CTV, saying, “The family is hopeful this whole nightmare can be over soon.”
A hike that almost didn’t happen
The Canadian couple were on their final day of their anniversary trip through the American West when Paul Miller went missing. They visited Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon before capping off their trip at Joshua Tree National Park.
They had meant to hike the 49 Palms trail together earlier in their visit to Joshua Tree, but it was raining and they postponed it to the final day, Stephanie Miller told reporters.
Paul left their hotel room after breakfast, around 9 a.m. July 13.
When he hadn’t returned by noon, Stephanie alerted park rangers.
Rangers started a search immediately, and eventually up to 90 people on the ground, six search dogs, an all-terrain vehicle and a helicopter crew joined the hunt for Miller. No sign was found besides his rental car, which was left in the parking lot of the 49 Palms trailhead, inside the park from an entrance in Twentynine Palms.
In November 2019, a nonprofit association of drone pilots, Western States Aerial Search, got permission to fly over the terrain where Miller went missing.
The drones took 6,711 images, which the pilots uploaded to DropBox, an online file-storage service. Volunteers began scouring the photographs for signs of Miller.
Two of them, Sara Francis Kelley and Morgan Clements, found evidence of human remains in the photos, said Greg Nuckolls, founder of Western States Aerial Search. The nonprofit notified rangers on Dec. 19, providing GPS coordinates of the rocky, steep location.
Law enforcement rangers hiked to the spot the next day and found human skeletal remains and personal belongings.
The remains appeared to have been tucked into steep terrain far from trails for some time, according to the national park.
The Miller family expected to announce details for a memorial service when they returned to Canada. Otten said they were asking for privacy in these final steps.
“Please keep Paul’s loved ones in your thoughts and prayers as they traverse the difficult end to the journey to bring Paul home,” she wrote.