Ben Jacobson’s disappearance is a mystery that has puzzled and alarmed Barron County since his father reported him missing the afternoon of Feb. 9. As the search stretched past the weekend, friends, family and concerned citizens wondered: Where could the 22-year-old possibly be and will he return home safely?
Ben spent the night of Feb. 8 ice fishing on Silver Lake, where he lives with his father, Kevin Jacobson. The Cumberland man had left the house at 7:30 p.m. and, according to the Sheriff’s Department log, his father said tracks showed him and a girlfriend leaving the ice on the lake located to the northeast of Cumberland.
But come Feb. 9, there was no trace of Ben or his 2002 green Ford F-150 pickup truck with mismatched body and topper.
Kevin Jacobson called the Barron County Sheriff’s Department just before 5:30 p.m. Feb. 9 to report that Ben had not called, wasn’t answering his phone and hadn’t reported to work. This was out of the ordinary, his father said.
When Ben’s younger brother, 20-year-old UW-Eau Claire student Zachary, heard the news about the disappearance, he was shocked. And at first he didn’t think a whole lot about it.
But his concern grew quickly as a few hours passed and friends and family still hadn’t heard from Ben.
“I was pretty puzzled by what was going on,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Barron County Sheriff’s Department was on the case. According to the log, on Tuesday evening the department asked Verizon to ping Ben’s phone, but it was off. On Wednesday, the service said the last ping had been recorded at 9:13 p.m. Monday 5.53 miles east/northeast of the tower at 2522 Highway 63, Cumberland.
As the investigation into the disappearance continued, it expanded beyond the confines of Barron County. The Bayfield County Sheriff’s Department was called upon to visit family property in the town of Barnes, but came up empty.
Efforts to find Ben also took flight Thursday, when the state Department of Natural Resources flew around the county looking for his pickup. But the flyover turned up nothing.
Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald said two detectives have been assigned to aggressively investigate the case full-time, following up leads and tips, and interviewing family and friends, including the friend who was on the lake with him that night and left after they returned to land.
But as of Monday, the Sheriff’s Office had no new information and continued to search, he said.
“Everyone is cooperating with us, and he has not reached out to any relatives or friends,” Fitzgerald said in a statement made Monday. “Also his truck has not been located either.”
It’s odd for a 22-year-old to disappear who has no reason to do so, Fitzgerald said. There apparently was no triggering event, such as a break-up, job loss or other signs of trouble.
While the investigation proceeded, Ben’s family — father, Kevin Jacobson, and mother, Susan Jacobson, brothers Sam and Zachary, uncle Kurt Jacobson, and aunts Susan Schettle and Ronda Keller — continued its agonizing wait.
“We’re all pretty distraught, but we have a lot of faith in the detectives right now,” Zachary Jacobson said. “They seem to be doing the most.”
Community members have been pitching in as well, posting missing-person flyers and keeping eyes peeled and memories alive to give the Sheriff’s Department all the help they can offer.
Fitzgerald recognized that many people are frustrated at not being able to actively seek for signs of Ben’s life, but the department can’t pinpoint an area to search until detectives find the pickup truck, license plate RN 2780, or a solid lead falls into their lap. As soon as that happens, a search team will be activated, he said.
The sheriff urged people to share posts and call the department at 715-537-3106 with tips no matter how inconsequential they may seem.
“Any information is good information until we determine it’s not,” Fitzgerald said.
Ben’s brother Zach concurred and made a plea to the community: “Check the roads, check the cars, check the people around you.”