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Search for missing man heads in new direction

| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 12:41 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Christie Copper, right, wife of missing Avonmore man Albert Copper III, wipes away tears during an interview in her Avonmore home as Linda Copper, mother of the missing man, holds her grandson, Emmitt, who is Christie and Albert's 1-month-old son.
Courtesy of the Copper family
The Copper family compiled this collage of photos of Albert 'Al' Copper III of Avonmore, who has been missing since Thursday. 'We are asking people to look at his photo in the newspaper and on TV and remember his face,” his wife, Christie Copper, said.

Police and Albert “Al” Copper III's family are switching strategies to find the missing 28-year-old Avonmore man.

“At this point, we don't have a solid lead. We are asking people to look at his photo in the newspaper and on TV and remember his face. In your daily travels, if you see him, call the police,” Christie Copper implored Monday.

“I need him. His son needs him. We all need him.”

Copper was reported missing on Thursday after his blue Hyundai sedan was found parked along a dirt natural gas access road in Kiski Township.

Copper left for work at Royal Flush not far away in Kiski Township earlier in the day but never arrived. That immediately worried his family and co-workers because he hadn't done that before, said his mother, Linda Copper of Salina, Bell Township.

Copper lives in the 200 block of Fifth Ave., Avonmore, with Christie and their one-month-old son, Emmett.

Police and the family are wondering if the man's disappearance involves Copper's year-old head injury.

“He broke his knee cap and a metal sign fell at the same time and hit him in the head,” Christie Copper said.He worked at the time for Superior Weld Services in Blacklick, Ohio, and then was transferred to the Oneida, N.Y., facility.

Now, Christie is exhausted and worried. She is “confounded and frightened” because Al has never before left home without telling her.

The couple will be married two years in August, although they have been together for 10 years, she said.

“If Al can see this report, and if he feels he doesn't have a way to get home, just call,” Copper's wife said. “Call any one of us. We will come to get him.”

Kiski Valley state police confirmed Monday that an extensive search of the Kiski River and hundreds of acres of steep, deeply wooded land in Armstrong and Westmore-land counties ended Saturday. State police used a heat-sensing camera from a helicopter that crisscrossed the search area.

“The people who did the searches said there isn't much more they could do,” Kiski Valley state police Cpl. Ken Stapchuck said.

The search drew volunteers from Armstrong and Westmoreland counties, Pittsburgh, and as far away as Colorado and West Virginia.

Also, people have been keeping vigil at his parents' house, Copper's house and other relatives' houses “24 hours a day, just in case he makes his way there,” Linda Copper said.

Search tactics change

The search's new phase is focusing on contacting hospitals as well as localities where Copper previously worked as a truck driver and mechanic on water trucks for the natural gas industry.

In addition to New York, and Ohio, Copper is known to have connections in the natural gas fields near Clarksburg, W.Va., state police Cpl. James DiPaolo said.

DiPaolo said police are investigating a report the family received about a large pickup seen speeding down the dirt road and then across the Avonmore Bridge before 4 a.m. last Thursday.“An individual spoke directly to the family, not to us,” DiPaolo said. “We are now looking into that report.”

A person going to work early Thursday later told Copper's mother that a large pickup barreled down the natural gas road and then onto the main road.

“They were moving so fast that the driver never saw the license plate,” Linda Copper said.The pickup can be seen on a surveillance video at an Avonmore store, she said.

Copper described the truck as a quad-cab with running boards. The video taken was in black and white so the truck's color isn't known.

Copper said she and her sister spent time very early Monday morning watching traffic near the dirt road. She said they handed out fliers to any drivers they could.

“We are still actively pursuing this,” state police's Stapchuck said. “We haven't turned up any leads.”

DiPaolo and Stapchuck said investigators are contacting Copper's friends and welcome any relevant information.

Raised in Salina

Copper spent his formative years in Salina, Bell Township, in a house along the Kiski River, his mother said.He graduated from Kiski Area High School.

“He has always been interested in cars and being a mechanic,” she said. His prized Ford Mustang remains parked at his house.

Copper's great-aunt, Carole Novosel, who lives near Bell Township, agreed that the family remains confounded by his disappearance.

“He is a very quiet, sensible and smart young man,” Novosel said.

She said Copper “recently bought a house in Salina and is fixing it up. He was working at Royal Flush; he has a wife and a 1-month-old baby.

“Does that sound like someone who would leave without saying anything?”

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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