GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In 1986, Rick Hazelton left Glens Falls and went to the Big Apple to pursue a music career.
His best friends were disappointed and confused to never hear from him for 33 years.
“He was declared dead, and I just couldn’t rest with that,” Brian Pincheon told News10, “I wanted to know the real reason, where he was, and if he had passed.”
Hazelton’s childhood friend, Brian Pincheon, is a former police officer who spent years looking for him. With the help of a Nashville detective, he found Hazelton in Salem, Oregon.
He was alive and well, with a wife and children.
“I still kind of wonder if it’s a dream, you know,” Pincheon told News10, “because it doesn’t seem real.”
The whole friend group goes way back.
“We had apartments together when we were teenagers, we played together,” Hazelton’s friend, Zachary Kaplan, told News10, “we did everything together.”
On Sunday, they got together to breathe a sigh of relief that the missing link has been found. They celebrated on the playground where they spent nearly every day of their youth together.
“This brings back memories that I haven’t been thinking of for years,” Hazelton told News10.
Hazelton, Pincheon, and Kaplan all remember one story fondly and clearly.
There’s a concrete tunnel that, to this day, sits on the playground. The boys decided they would attempt to roll it.
“I used to instigate it. We wanted to move it,” Hazelton recalled, “It looked a lot bigger back then.”
Kaplan laughed as he remembered that Rick got his hand stuck under the tunnel.
Now, the bottom of the tunnel is buried, so it is attached to the ground and cannot be moved.
“Zach’s father had it rolled back and put in place so we would never do that again,” Pincheon recalled.
Sunday, in that same park with that same tunnel, they made new memories.
They played a game of kickball, one of their favorites from childhood.
At the end, Hazelton’s friends all signed the kickball that Pincheon purchased the night before from a sporting goods store.
“Love you” was written in permanent marker more than once.
They gave it to Hazelton as a token to bring back to Oregon, so he always remembers his best friends back in Glens Falls who never forgot about him.
“His family and friends never thought we’d see him again,” Kaplan told News10, “we didn’t give up hope, but it’s been 30 plus years, and now the hope is here.”