If you think you have seen or heard a Sasquatch in the backwoods of McDowell County, don’t call the police, the Sheriff’s Office or state wildlife officers. Instead, call Bigfoot 911.
That’s because since 2014, a small but dedicated group of investigators have quietly trekked through the woods and around the waterways of McDowell in search of the elusive and mysterious – and some would argue imaginary -- creature. But based on their investigations, they have concluded that Bigfoot is indeed here.
“What we do is Bigfoot expeditions in McDowell County,” said John Bruner, who started Bigfoot 911. “We’ve collected a ton of evidence, mostly photographs.”
Bruner grew up in the 1970s when the Bigfoot or Sasquatch phenomenon was near its peak. In those days, books like “The Search for Bigfoot: Monster, Myth or Man” by researcher Peter Byrne, TV programs like “Mysterious Monsters” and “In Search Of” and feature films like “The Legend of Boggy Creek” and “Sasquatch” fascinated the American public. And in nearby Cleveland County, folks reported sightings of a creature called Knobby.
Bruner says as a youth in the 1970s he would hear these strange knocks in the woods that didn’t sound like woodpeckers. Years later, Matt Moneymaker with the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) identified that these knocks were a method of communication used by the alleged half-man, half-ape creatures.
“I’ve been looking for Bigfoot for 41 years since I was 10 years old,” he said to The McDowell News. “It was a hobby but you didn’t talk about it.”
When his son Joneric was discharged from the military, Bruner decided to start an investigation team for McDowell. His other two sons, Nick and Brad, are a part of this group too.
Joneric served in the U.S. Army as a fire support specialist and a forward observer. He is a team leader and head of security. He’s also knows a lot about land navigation and developed a mapping system.
“Since he’s been doing this, we’ve had much more productive hunts,” said Bruner of Joneric.
Brad has been a part of Bigfoot 911 and is the official photographer. Nick has risen to team leader status and has extensive knowledge of the Bigfoot habitat and behavior.
But the group is more than just Bruner and his sons. Corey Webb, Phillip Finley and Gavin Wood are team leaders too. Marcus Chapman joined the group this year and is an expert Bigfoot caller.
“That’s the core of the team,” said Bruner.
Along with their interest in Bigfoot, most of the members have another common bond.
“The reason we named it Bigfoot 911 is many of us work in emergency services,” said Bruner, who is a lieutenant and SMAT coordinator with McDowell EMS. Webb, Finley and Wood also work in emergency services but Bruner’s sons do not.
Webb and Joneric are the forward observers. The team also has a command post similar to the military.
Even though Joneric says he doesn’t believe in Bigfoot, this activity helps him put his military experience to use back here at home.
“I may not believe in them but I have an outlet for my skills,” he says.
Since the formation of Bigfoot 911, the team has gone out on several major expeditions, mostly concentrating around Lake James. What they do is similar to what you see on the reality show “Finding Bigfoot” where Moneymaker (who is president of the BFRO), researchers James “Bobo” Flay, Cliff Barackman and Ranae Holland hear reports from folks and then travel out into the woods looking for signs of the mysterious unknown creature.
Recently, the show “Finding Bigfoot” aired an episode that was filmed in western North Carolina. In that episode, Moneymaker, Flay, Barackman and Holland conducted a town hall meeting in Asheville where they heard reports of sightings from area residents. Bruner said the night investigation in that episode took place along Pepper’s Creek in northern McDowell while the daytime hunt with Flay and Barackman was held out at Lake James.
“You can recognize a lot of McDowell County in that episode,” said Bruner.
Now, our county has its own researchers that keep it Squatchy.
“We have documented extensive evidence that Bigfoot exists in McDowell County,” reads a statement from Bigfoot 911. “We conduct our research in the most professional way. We look at all the evidence presented and make a determination as a team as to whether the evidence is an actual Bigfoot or something that is explained and debunked. We will continue to research the topic and remain open-minded in all of our investigations.”
Bruner and the others vividly remember one such expedition on a night in July 2015.
“We were divided into two groups and we were walking along a Forest Service road,” said Bruner. “I heard something to my right. We stopped. The moon was full and the headlamps were off.
“After about three minutes, I looked to my right and I saw a silhouette high up of what looked like a head to me. I pulled my son Nick behind me and it stepped to the right and then bolted down through the holler.”
Bruner radioed for Webb and his other son Joneric to come join them. “When they got there, we could hear it going up the other side of the holler,” said Bruner.
The team then took measurements of whatever it is they saw in the darkness. They were able to do so because the silhouette was seen up against a tree. Bruner said their measurements determined that it was 8 feet, 6 inches tall.
Many Bigfoot investigators look for footprints and if they are good enough will make plaster casts of them. Bruner said the team has not been able to do that yet. “You see impressions but not good enough for prints,” he added.
They sometimes hear reports from local residents who may have seen or heard a Sasquatch.
“We have people occasionally come up to tell us,” said Bruner. “A lot of people are still skeptical about talking about it.”
Based on their research so far, the team members have determined that Bigfoot lives around Lake James. And they have decided to give it a name. After all, there is Knobby in Cleveland County, the Fouke monster in Arkansas and the Swamp Ape in Florida.
Bigfoot 911 calls McDowell’s elusive creature “The Beast of the Blue Ridge.”
Most recently, the team did an expedition to Tom’s Creek Falls. “We plan to go back there,” said Bruner. “We have documented howls, whoops and wood knocks at Lake James.”
Bigfoot 911 also wants to have a higher public profile. The team has a Facebook page and the members have created a brochure and a field guide about themselves and the Bigfoot phenomenon. They plan to have a booth at festivals and get the word out about what they do.
Bruner has written an article about the cryptid that will be published in the November-December issue of The Back Woodsman magazine.
He and the others are hoping folks will be more willing to talk about anything strange that they may have seen or heard in the forests and wilderness of McDowell.
“People are accepting it more,” said Bruner. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
For more information, check out Bigfoot 911’s Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.