TULALIP — Patrol cars, motorcycles, dirt bikes and quads …
A girl wearing a “Thin Blue Line” flag like a cape, a Ford Focus with a gift-wrapped hood, a man blasting a hunter’s bugle as loud as he could …
The memorial parade that winded its way along Totem Beach Road on the Tulalip reservation was a reminder of who Charlie Cortez was: an officer, a fisherman, a geoducker, a hunter, an off-road enthusiast. A family man and leader in the community. And a guy who liked the holidays.
Cortez, 29, is lost at sea. On Nov. 17, he and fellow Tulalip Tribes fish-and-wildlife officer Shawn Edge were thrown overboard when a rogue wave capsized their 24-foot fisheries vessel near Jetty Island. Through heavy rain, choppy water and gusts up to 45 mph, first responders found the overturned boat, but the officers were gone.
Fishermen on a private boat found Edge, 39, floating near Hat Island later that night — 3½ miles west of Jetty Island. He was hypothermic but conscious and was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Cortez is presumed drowned and is the first officer in the tribal department’s history to die in the line of duty. After 25 days, with hundreds of miles of sea and shoreline scoured — including sloughs and harbors and around islands and at least one shipwreck — there has been no sign of him. First responders from throughout the region, tribal fisherman and other volunteers have pitched in to help with the search. Boats, helicopters, underwater drones and specially trained dogs have been brought out to help.
“It’s just been non-stop,” said Glen Gobin, vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes. “… I don’t think any one of us, unless you’ve experienced this before, can imagine the grief and the pain that the family is going through; to be left with nothing but questions, all unanswered, and no reasoning for what’s really transpired here, with the loss of a son, and, for the children, their father, and for us a young man in the community that was a rising leader.”
People are asked to keep an eye out and report any clothing that may have belonged to Cortez. He was wearing a department-issued uniform, including a black stocking cap, a black zip-up bulletproof vest, a dark-blue shirt, a dark-blue coat, dark-blue pants, black boots and a black UnderArmour T-shirt. His name and a gold star is embroidered in some of the clothing.
Torry and Christina Parker, who rode quads to Saturday’s event, said they came up with the idea for the memorial parade earlier in the week. They had no idea so many people would come out.
“We were up all night making signs,” Torry Parker said.
Christina Parker said they wanted to try to bring the family a smile during the holidays, and ahead of Cortez’s son’s eighth birthday.
They also wanted to “let the world know we’re still searching.”
Among those who came were the Sacred Riders, a Native American motorcycle club based in Tulalip. Club member Josh Hammons, 41, said they came out to pay their respects.
“We’re all one big community, one big family,” he said.
He knew Cortez since he was a kid, when he was “ripping past” people on a dirt bike. Even after he became an officer, Cortez was well known in the local motorsports community, Hammons said.
Gobin said he watched as Cortez grow from a newborn into a man and a father. He remarked on how being a fisheries officer let Cortez continue to be outdoors, where he was most comfortable.
As of Saturday, there were no plans to stop the search.
“When we lose a fisherman, all of our fishermen come together and do what they can to try and assist in bringing our loved one home — bring some closure or some start of healing for the family,” Gobin said. “We’ve not given up hope.”
Help with the search
Anyone who plans to participate in the search, or who has information about Cortez’s whereabouts, is asked to email email@example.com or leave a voicemail at 909-294-6356.