After a weeklong search, the body of Newhall Fire Capt. Wayne Habell was found on a hiking trail in Montecito in Santa Barbara County.
He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Lt. Kevin Huddle, spokesman for the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office, said Monday.
Habell went missing a week ago when he got into his older model black Chrysler Aspen SUV and was reportedly going to LA Fitness in Stevenson Ranch.
About 2 p.m. Friday, deputies in Santa Barbara responded to reports of a suspicious vehicle left parked since Aug. 13 on the hiking trail at the Hot Springs Trailhead, Huddle said.
Also reported to deputies was a “sole male occupant last seen walking up the trailhead.”
Santa Barbara deputies learned the vehicle was registered to Habell and that Habell was listed as an at-risk missing person in Los Angeles County.
Searchers assembled near the trailhead — sheriff’s deputies, members of the Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit and the Santa Barbara Search and Rescue — and began scouring the area.
When darkness fell and they were unable to locate Habell, they called off the search due to darkness, Huddle said. Then, early the next day, they resumed their search.
After a full day of searching Saturday, at 6 p.m., a man’s body was found in the canyon. It was the body of Habell, Huddle said.
The body was taken to the Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office, Huddle said.
News of the discovery sent shock waves through the ranks of firefighters who knew and worked with Habell, loved him and respected him.
The flag at Fire Station 73 was lowered to half-staff.
It was Battalion Chief Jason Robertson who confirmed that Habell had been found, though he was unable to provide details at the time.
Habell’s family requested privacy, Robertson said.
The L.A. County Fire Department released a statement through its social media offering support to Habell’s wife and children.
“It is with great pain and sorrow that we mourn the loss of Fire Capt. Wayne Habell. Capt. Habell leaves behind a wife and three children. Everyone including his Fire Department family is devastated. Our deepest condolences and sympathies to the entire Habell family.”
In a statement, Firefighters’ Local 1014 President Dave Gillotte wrote:
“Brothers and Sisters,
“It is with great sorrow and a heavy heart that we come together again to stand with a brother’s family and mourn the loss of one of our own. Brother Habell was found.
“Local 1014 is committed to helping his family, especially his wife, Jennifer, his children and his coworkers through this difficult time. We have PEER support, chaplains and department support services in place for firefighters and family members who need it. For more resources including PEER Support, contact information and professional mental health resources, visit: Healingourown.org and Firestrong.org.
“We cannot afford to remain silent any longer — don’t let depression live in the shadows. Each day our members battle post-traumatic stress injuries and cumulative stress injuries. We need to bring these issues into the light to ensure people get the help they need. If you or someone you know needs help, please seek out resources and get help. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Take care of each other!
“We shall never forget.”
Close to a thousand dollars has been raised in support of Habell’s family through a GoFundme page set up in his name.
Cherie Simone, organizer of the GoFundme page, posted on the site:
“Raising money to help support the family of Capt. Wayne Habell. He went missing on Monday, Aug. 13. [On] Saturday Aug. 18 they found his body in Santa Barbara area. His son has been on my son’s baseball team for a couple years.
“He left behind a beautiful wife and three amazing children. Please spread the word and share this as much as possible. I’m trying to raise as much as I can to help his wife and kids. I set the goal high. I’ve never done one of these. Anything will help in this traumatic time. Share please.”