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Family continues desperate search for Robby Gallagher who went missing on Oahu's North Shore one year ago

The 31-year-old body surfer was last seen on November 2, 2020.

Robby Gallagher was always pursuing waves. Whether it was body surfing, surfing, or just swimming, he found his happiness in the ocean.

Growing up in San Diego, California, Robby and his brother Brian lived and breathed the beach life. It only made sense that Robby would one day make his way to the Hawaiian islands.

“I think my dad paved the way for Robby,” Brian told Dateline, explaining that in the late 70s, their father lived on the Big Island, where he taught scuba diving and skippered boats.

Robert "Robby" Gallagher
Robert "Robby" GallagherGallagher Family

The family made frequent trips to Hawaii over the years before Robby decided to move there permanently.

“He made it a point to pursue waves. He was drawn to them,” Brian said. “He was an incredible swimmer, an insane surfer, and most of all, he just loved the ocean.”

After graduating college with a degree in philosophy and business, Robby made his way to Oahu, where he later landed a stable job with a company that his brother also worked for in Colorado.

“We were extremely close,” Brian told Dateline. “We talked weekly, anyway, because we were co-workers, but also just about life, and Hawaii, and surfing.”

Robby didn’t return to California until 2016, when their father passed away suddenly.

“The death of his father was hard on him,” his mother, Cathy, told Dateline. “It was hard on all of us. I don’t think he was ever the same after that.”

Robby moved back to San Diego to help his mom, but before long, he said he couldn’t take being in San Diego and needed to move back to Hawaii.

In September 2020, months into the pandemic, despite a stable job and carefree lifestyle on the islands, Robby’s family began seeing a decline in his mental health.

“The isolation really got to him,” Brian said. “For a while he couldn’t even go out to body surf. I think it really messed with his mind.”

So Robby’s family attempted to get him help, in both San Diego and Oahu.

“But he told us that ‘the ocean is my therapy,’” Cathy said. “And that he just wanted to be back surfing again.”

A phone call on October 31 was the last time she spoke to her son. She said he would frequently call to check on her. But the calls stopped. And when Cathy tried to reach Robby, there was no answer.

“We spoke several times a week, so it was unusual for him to just not answer the phone,” she said. “Brian said something isn’t right.”

With Brian in Colorado and Cathy in San Diego, and it being the height of the pandemic, it was not easy for the family to get to Robby right away.

After waiting several days for COVID test results, Cathay was finally able to catch a flight to Hawaii on November 9.

Once on the island, she told Dateline she discovered that Robby was last seen acting irrationally and local police stopped to help. They asked if he wanted a ride to the hospital and he said yes. So Robby was transported to Kahuku Medical Center on Oahu’s North Shore, but left before being treated.

A few hours later, a woman reported seeing Robby attempting to open a door of a house near the medical center. He had dropped his body surfing fins, which were later confirmed to be his by his family.

Cathy told Dateline that she went by the house Robby had been living in with roommates but no one had seen or heard from him. His belongings were left behind. She added that she later discovered his passport in his room at her home in San Diego.

Robby’s brother Brian continued to call his cell phone, and a few days after Robby’s disappearance, someone answered.

It turned out to be a passerby who had found the phone on the side of the road in Wahiawa, about 20 miles from the medical center and took it home to charge it. The phone was given to Robby’s family, but there was nothing that gave them an idea of where he could be.

Cathy filed a missing persons report with the Honolulu Police Department and tips of sightings began pouring in.

“People have said they’ve seen him in Waikiki, on the west side, on the north side, on the east side, south side,” Cathy said. “It’s very difficult. I went all over the island. And people say the island is small, and -- not to me. It’s huge.”

Sergeant Chris Kim with Honolulu Crime Stoppers told Dateline that they also received a number of tips from the public in the beginning.

Since then, the sightings have been few and far between, with none confirmed to have been Robby, but Sgt. Kim told Dateline that it’s a positive sign that people are still keeping an eye out for him.

Sergeant Kim told Dateline that he hopes national coverage of the case will lead to more information and adds that it’s very possible that Robby could be off the island and in another state.

“Investigators are following up on it,” the sergeant added. “They’re still actively working on this and we know that the family -- they want some type of closure. Hopefully, we are able to locate him alive and well.”

November marked one year since the 31-year-old went missing, and his family and the community continue to search for him - holding onto hope that Robby’s still alive somewhere.

“This is a parent’s worst nightmare,” Cathy said. “It’s been a year and we still don’t have answers.”

Cathy has been to Hawaii four times since her son disappeared, and along with her son, Brian, who now lives back in San Diego, continues to spread the word and investigate leads.

“We’ve become like our own investigators,” she said. “We have the help of a detective and private investigators, but we always feel like we need to do more.”

The family has also set up a Facebook group “Missing Person in Oahu: Robby Gallagher” in order to provide updates on the case, but also as a place where the public can submit tips. They stress that anyone who believes they have a sighting of Robby, should take a photo and immediately call 911. A cash reward is being offered for information that leads to finding Robby.

Cathy and Brian told Dateline that they are extremely thankful for the support of the Oahu community.

“The amount of support we’ve received from the community of Oahu has just been incredible,” Brian said. “The kindness they’ve shown us, by offering to hang posters, give us a place to stay, make us meals, it’s been a light during this dark time.”

Brian adds that he doesn’t know what happened to his little brother, or if he’s even still alive, but said he intends to keep searching for as long as it takes.

“There’s a chance he’s not here with us anymore,” Cathy said. “But we know he loves us, he knows we love him. I’ll keep praying he’s still alive. And just keep searching until we know otherwise.”

Robby is described as being 6’1” and weighs about 170 pounds. He has dark dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. He may now have a beard and long hair.

Anyone with information on Robby’s whereabouts, should call Crime Stoppers at 808-955-8300. Tips may also be sent anonymously at or via the P3 Tips app.