Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


By Miriam Raftery

Photo, left:  Sergeant Parker with his daughter, Sarah, sons Jonathan and Daniel, and wife, Missy.

July 5, 2017 (San Diego) – Countless families have been reunited with missing loved ones, or learned their fate, thanks to the tireless efforts of  Sheriff Search and Rescue Coordinator Don Parker.  Sergeant Parker, who retired in 2015, made a career out of helping others – and now the community is pulling together to bring financial help to Sergeant Parker, who was diagnosed in May with brain cancer.

The diagnosis came after the man who specialized in finding lost persons became lost in his own home, after suffering headaches.  His wife, Missy, rushed him to the emergency room, where they learned he had a glioblastoma.

“It was like a meteorite coming out of the universe and hitting me in the head,” Parker said of the diagnosis, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.  “What are the odds?”

Doctors performed surgery to remove most of the cancerous tumor, but 10-30% remains on his brain, unable to be removed, according to a GoFundMe site set up to help his family.  So far, over $42,000 has been raised for treatments that are well into six figures, with insurance covering only part of that.  He now faces a regimen of radiation and chemotherapy.

The  prognosis for glioblastoma patients is grim; the average survival rate after diagnosis is 14 to 16 months.  But Parker is used to beating tough odds, and he’s vowed to fight for his life.  “I’m not afraid of dying, but I do not want to leave Missy early; I don’t want to leave my kids early,” Sergeant Parker (photo, right) has stated. 

Under his leadership, the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team  had a 98 percent success rate in finding missing children and adults, from lost hikers to wandering Alzheimer’s patients.  One of the rare missing children never found is Mickey Guidry, Missy’s teen son who disappeared in the Anza Borrego Desert on Thanksgiving weekend, 2009.  The vehicle he was driving was found disabled off-road.

While some dismissed the case as  a runaway, Parker performed exhaustive searches in the desert, tracking down countless leads.  He never forgot Mickey through the years, even sending out a computerized image of what Mickey might look like, several years later, as East County Magazine reported

(Photos, left: Mickey Guidry, in 2009 and as he might appear in 2014)

Out of that heartbreaking loss,  Missy fell in love with the Search and Rescue leader.  Now she faces the prospect of yet another devastating loss.

Parker’s efforts have touched the lives of many across San Diego County.

“He has saved lives, changed lives, and brought closure to dozens, perhaps hundreds of families,” Ernie Cowan, a division leader with the Search and Rescue team who has volunteered for nearly half a century, said upon Parker’s retirement in 2015, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Among those who found closure, albeit amid tragedy, were the families of murdered teens Chelsea King and Amber Dubois.

Sergeant Parker served 25 years with the Sheriff’s department, including working on patrol, in the jails and courts, as a training deputy, on the S.W.A.T. team, and for his last eight years, heading up Search and Rescue (SAR), where he oversaw a dedicated team of  volunteers.

“His ability to relate to 240 dedicated Search and Rescue volunteers, to motivate them and get them involved is amazing,” Sheriff Bill Gore said upon Parker’s retirement,

Parker was well-equipped for rugged search and rescue work at all hours of the day and night.  In his spare time, he has long enjoyed rock climbing and skiing, though he also  plays classical piano.

In a profile article on Sergeant Parker published by the County News Service in 2014,  Sergeant Parker praised those loyal volunteers and explained what motivated him—and others—to choose search and rescue as their calling.  “It is a very positive and rewarding experience,” he said. “I have definitely made some life-long friends.  Everybody in the world is here for a purpose.  Being in SAR allows us to make a positive difference.”

Now his family is hoping for a medical miracle, while their friends hope to provide financial help for Don Parker, who has helped so many others in their times of need.

You can donate to help the Parker family at

You can volunteer to join the Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team at

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.