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Family holds onto hope for safe return of UC Santa Cruz student Dane Elkins months after his disappearance

The 21-year-old’s car was found abandoned on December 21, 2020.

A Brentwood, California mother is holding onto hope as she continues to plead for help in the search for her son Dane Elkins who has been missing since December 21, 2020.

The 21-year-old UC Santa Cruz student’s last known location was near Interstate 5 and Templin Highway in the area of Castaic, California, around 8:20 p.m., where his car was found abandoned with a flat tire, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Dane’s wallet and cell phone were found inside the car.

Dane Elkins
Dane Elkins

Dane’s mother, Deborah Elkins, told Dateline she spoke to her son that day. She added that in the days leading up to his disappearance, Dane had become mentally distressed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and that he had been driving back and forth between their home in Brentwood and Santa Cruz, where he is an engineering student.

“He told me he wasn’t feeling well when I spoke to him on the phone, and told me he needed to find himself,” Deborah explained. “He seemed to be breaking down and I urged him to come home. I was so close to getting him home, but then he was gone.”

Deborah told Dateline that her son called 911 that evening, but when authorities arrived, they found his abandoned car with his wallet and cell phone still inside. One of the tires was flat and the other three were very low on air, she added.

“But there was no trace of Dane,” Deborah said. “He had left everything behind - it just doesn’t make any sense.”

Deborah told Dateline that Dane had been living at home in Brentwood, but wasn’t doing well being isolated and often left to stay with his friends. He had started talking about moving into an apartment or a camper.

An engineering student at UC Santa Cruz, Dane holds 23 national championships as a racquetball player and holds a black belt in Taekwondo. He also spent hours of his free time helping his mother as a volunteer to feed the homeless population in the Los Angeles area.

Dane Elkins with his medals from a racquetball championship in 2017.
Dane Elkins with his medals from a racquetball championship in 2017.

“He used to help me feed the homeless,” Deborah said. “Now we’re searching for him among them.”

Deborah said that on her son’s drives back and forth between Brentwood and Santa Cruz, often stopped to camp near the area of Bakersfield and believes he could be in that area.

Several searches by authorities and volunteers have been conducted but so far, there has been no trace of Dane. A search of the Bakersfield area is scheduled for 10 a.m. on March 6.

Deborah describes her son as an intelligent and kind young man who is dearly missed by his family, including his three younger siblings.

“They miss their big brother,” his mother added. “This has really taken a toll on all of us.”

Dane's father told Dateline "the outpouring of support and incredible volunteer efforts from the community shows how much people loved Dane."

For months, Dane’s family has used social media to reach out to the community for information on his whereabouts. A Facebook group Searching for Dane Elkins with more than 3,000 members and the TikTok account @KindnessMom were launched to help with the search.

“I have a wonderful support group of 3,000 people,” Deborah said. “I couldn’t do this without them… without the community who gives their time to help in our search.”

Dane and his mother, Deborah Elkins.
Dane and his mother, Deborah Elkins.

Deborah told Dateline that there have been many possible sightings of her son since his disappearance, but none has turned out to be him. She said that anyone who believes they have spotted someone who might be Dane is encouraged to take a photo of the individual and send it to, which will allow the family to better determine if it actually could be Dane before passing it along to investigators.

While the family believes he could be somewhere between Brentwood and Santa Cruz, Deborah told Dateline it's very possible he could be in another state.

“At the end of every day we don’t find him, I get discouraged,” Deborah said. “But the next morning, I have hope again. I just have to keep hoping that we’ll find him and that he’ll be OK. It’s what keeps me going. I’m not giving up.”

Dane Elkins in a photo posted to SnapChat shortly before he disappeared.
Dane Elkins in a photo posted to SnapChat shortly before he disappeared.Deborah Kassin Elkins

Dane is described as being 5’11” tall and weighing 170 lbs. He has brown hair and green eyes. His family said he had facial hair in the days before his disappearance.

Anyone with information on his location is urged to call the LAPD’s Missing Persons Unit at (213) 996-1800. During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (877-527-3247). Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477).