Taking a Wrong Turn Too Many Times-The Tragic Death of an Appalachian Hiker Gone Missing

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The story of 66-year-old Geraldine Largay’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail and what led up to her tragic death is unusual. There were many accounts giving information which would seem to contradict her behavior…and so many missed opportunities. It didn’t have to end in death …and it was never meant to end in death! A lover of the outdoors and seeking adventures past a dedicated career should reflect new chapters of enlightenment and excitement…not disaster.

Geraldine began her training to navigate the wilds of the Appalachian Trail with a trainer who had the reputation to be unorthodox in his methods, according to an article by the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. Her mission was to cover 14 states, encompassing roughly 2,175 miles.   She nicknamed herself “inchworm” as her trail name. She and friend Jane Lee began on April 23, 2013, trekking ~1,000 miles from Harper’s Ferry Virginia. As of June 30th the women were in New Hampshire whereupon, Jane left to lend to a family emergency.  This was the beginning of flirting with a disaster which would create a domino effect of trouble ahead. Geraldine was insistent that she continue on alone. Actually, the system in place was to have her husband of 42 years act as a kind of “wagon train” meeting her at pre-determined spots, bringing her supplies and driving her to motels for showers etc.

Geraldine’s body was found less than two miles from the trail 26 months later by surveyors on October 14, 2015, in Maine.

I really tried to find an equal balance of positive and negative factors to relate, thinking that this was just a fluke that this woman went missing, seemingly forever and then died. But, no, the negative far outweighed the positive in this tale.

Gerry was a retired nurse whose medical skills would supposedly serve her well for such an ambitious trip. She was a friendly person on the trail, not “keeping to herself.” She had the physical stamina to carry a full pack, hiking 16 miles a day.  She also kept a journal after she got lost that provided insight into her journey (as well as over 1,500 pages from the Maine Warden Service and the Medical Examiner.)

WHY?

unknownHuman error, poor judgement, the harshness of the terrain,  over-reliance of certain equipment and not using other techniques, lack of survival skills taught by her instructor, (no curriculum to speak of) and  a medical condition and her family’s lack of knowledge of just how unprepared Gerry was, all contributed to this “perfect storm.”

In summary some of the factors that worked to create this tragedy were:

  • She was afraid of being alone, but yet she insisted on “going it alone “when her friend had to leave;
  • She suffered from anxiety and may not have been taking a prescribed medication for her condition making her vulnerable to panic attacks;
  • Her hiker friend told investigators Gerry had a poor sense of direction and became flustered and combative when she made mistakes such as making a wrong turn;
  • She had a SPOT beacon, (a GPS device that sends emergency messages to a satellite when it is activated.) BUT, she left it in the lean-to before she left for her final hike;
  • She over-relied on a cell phone to communicate….

Gerry left the marked trail to go to the bathroom and lost her way. According to experienced hiker David Miller quoted in the National Post, he stated that as part of the maintenance of trails, the Conservancy re-routes paths yearly after floods or restoration projects. New paths are cut and they attempt to block the old paths, but the “blazing” – looking like paint on trees, is not adequately removed and mistake the old route for the new routes,

Largay did not follow her instructor’s informal advice to go “Downhill and downstream.” This instructor also recommended that if lost, you should stay put and do nothing.  Maine investigators have disagreed.  Instead, Gerry tried to go to higher ground hoping for a signal for her cell phone.

Gerry died in the summer within a sleeping bag in a closed tent, which ultimately made it difficult for search dogs to detect a scent through the air.

The Warden Service was able to conduct three dog searches only due to the lack of volunteers able to navigate the harsh terrain that had been used by the military in the past.

The medical examiner’s report stated that her last campsite was a mixture of hardwood and evergreen with a tree canopy covering  75% of the campsite from above (with a black tent) which made visibility from the air and the immediate surroundings very challenging. She waved her shirt to a passing plane and helicopter, but she could not be seen.

Her path to the end – Several accounts report that she was last seen on alive on July 22, 2013, on Polar Ridge lean-to. As there have been torrential rains afterward, speculation was that she had trouble crossing the Carrabassett River or “got turned around on the trail.” Evidence from the Computer Crime Lab indicated she had gotten to an abandoned railroad bed crossing and the Orbeton Stream.   She missed her scheduled stop to meeting her husband for supplies in Wyman Township. She continued north but reported left the trail to go to the bathroom and got lost.  This area was very dense with fir trees, rugged with thick underbrush.

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In fact, Gerry was found less than two miles off the trail and waited a full month for rescue before dying officially from Inanition (exhaustion and lack of food and water).Some of her remains were intact within the sleeping bag, while animals scavenged and dragged her a few feet away.

Before the month passed, Gerry appeared resigned to death, with her journal messages, following her failed text messages to her husband. The cover of the Journal said, “George, Please Read X0X0”

At 11 a.m. on her final day of hiking, her unanswered text said, “In some trouble. Got off the trail to go to br. Now lost. Call the Appalachian Mountain Club to c if a trail maintainer can help me. Somewhere north of the wood road. X0X.” She prayed the Rosary too!

On August 6th she wrote, “When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry. It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead and where you find me.  No matter how many years from now. Please find it in your heart to mail the contents of this bag to one of them.”  She also wrote a long letter to each of her family members, apologizing, saying that, “No hike was more important than them.”

Parting thoughts:

I have many questions about why  Gerry was so ill prepared and why her family agreed to this vagabond system of travel agreed to, for a woman with an anxiety disorder without medication, without sufficient survival training and someone who did not like to be alone.   We’ll never know why so many common sense factors went by the wayside for Gerry! It is sad and senseless. Perhaps she was a loveable but “stubborn ol’ broad” who didn’t like to listen to others.

P.S. Gerry was less than 200 miles from completing her goal of 900+ miles –half of the trail that she began in West Virginia months before.

References: 

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/01/29/maine-hiker-missing-2-years-died-in-sleeping-bag-inside-tent/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/27/us/missing-hiker-geraldine-largay-appalachian-trail-maine.html

https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2016/08/24/when-you-find-body-the-last-days-hiker-gerry-largay/DcaZf6RcojOTN2LNsOXm0K/story.html

http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/17/at-instructor-ill-fated-hiker-disregarded-common-sense/

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/former-instructor-says-trip-was-perfect-storm-for-missing-hiker-found-dead-in-appalachian-wilderness

 

The Story of a Missing Person Known as Sage 

 

When the straight world collides with gender identity issues it becomes the land of unintended consequences, confusion, misunderstandings and focusing on the wrong things like bathrooms. Please! It is fodder for the sensational media, but in the end it only hurts a community that has already suffered much oppression.

Combine the forces of human nature with the epidemic of missing persons and it can create the perfect storm. The Cue Center for Missing Persons, based in Wilmington, North Carolina, rated one of the top 100 non-profits in the nation as an all volunteer operation, has served thousands (more than 9,000) families of missing persons in its 22 year history.

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Profile: Synopsis from the Cue Center for Missing Persons:

Dashad, Laquinn “Sage” Smith identifies as male or female depending upon the situation. Dashad is a male transgendered person who has not had surgery.   She disappeared on November 20, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. in Charlottesville, VA. She was last seen in the 500 block of West Street to meet someone she met on line by the name of Eric McFadden.

Police have not been able to locate Mr. McFadden and he has not been seen since that time.  Lolita Smith, “Ms. Cookie,” is Dashad’s grandmother and has served as her primary advocate and family support.

Dashad was dressed in house clothes- dark grey sweatpants, a jacket and a black scarf and grey boots. She was to meet Eric near the Amtrak station.   Law enforcement did a search of a local landfill with no results.  Police have communicated extensively over the years  with her grandmother, “Miss Cookie,” since the disappearance.

Dashad had just signed a new lease on her very first apartment, and was extremely happy, with no known reason to go missing.  Typically, she was in constant contact with her grandmother previously.

November 20, 2015 marked the three year anniversary with a special event in her honor.  There is no particular theory as to the whereabouts or circumstances of Dashad’s disappearance.

Vital Information: 

Missing Since: 11/20/12
Missing From: Charlottesville Virginia
Classification: Endangered Missing
Age at Disappearance: 19 years
Black Male
Height: 5’11
Weight: 130 pounds
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Black (Long)
Clothing: Black jacket, dark grey sweatpants, black scarf, and grey boots.
Full name: Dashad Laquinn Smith
Nickname: Sage

If you have any information, that you feel may be related in any way, please contact the following entities.

Investigative Agency
Charlottesville Police
434-970-3970
or
Crime stoppers
434-977-4000

If you have any information on this case please contact CUE Center For Missing Persons   at (910) 343-1131 or the 24 hour tip line (910) 232-1687.

Chasing Rainbows – The Missing Who are Elderly- Part II

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If we only knew the resources needed to care for our elderly, particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, we’d be shocked. It is on the increase – 71% in the past decade!  According to the Alzheimer’s Association:

  • Every 66 seconds, someone in the United States develops this disease;
  • Family caregivers spend approximately $5,000 per year caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s;
  • Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death , and one without prevention or a cure or a mechanism to slow its growth;
  • Caregivers have very high-stress levels, and provided about $15.1 billion in uncompensated care from those surveyed in 2015;
  • Comparison of  Statistics my two home states –
  • Connecticut – Those receiving Medicaid- Title 19 funding, $ 883 million was spent on the cost of care for this disease to date in 2016, with it being the 6th leading cause of death;
  • South Carolina – Those receiving Medicaid- Title 19 funding, $ 561 million was spent on the cost of care for this disease to date in 2016.  South Carolina is the 8th highest state in the U.S. re prevalence of Alzheimer’s  with an 86% increase since year 2000!

Numbers don’t lie, no matter what the economic state of our nation. “The rich get richer and the poor get children …and Alzheimer’s”, to paraphrase the old saying.  Chronic unemployment, poverty, lack of access to nutritious food, lack of availability of medical care, increased crime and stress on communities, all contribute to  people’s minds and bodies wasting.  What can be done? I do not have the answers.

However, I know that with dedication, perseverance, and innovative investigation,  Cue Center for Missing Persons  is ready to assist in locating our elders, wherever they may be.   A mandatory part of the equation is always the need for a collective consciousness for the community to do the right thing, stepping forward with any information that may contribute to a successful recovery of a missing person.

Here are four additional examples, to my Part I blog.  Knowing that many of the people in the registry have been missing for several years, gone missing as a young or  middle-aged person, we can only speculate that  in 2016, there are considerably higher  numbers of the people now classified as elderly had they disappeared in the 1980 and 199os.

 Examples of the Missing Elderly from the Cue Center Registry

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1)Brevard, North Carolina – Edna Glaze, age 76 went missing in March 1996 after walking or being dropped off at a hardware store followed by a music store. Edna was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/missing-persons/missing-north-carolina/edna-glaze-2/

 


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2) Chippewa County, Michigan -Joseph Clewley, age 73, went missing in July 2008 south of Paradise, Michigan on the North County Pathway. He was an avid hiker with a cabin, with significant medical conditions of a physical nature. http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/missing-persons/missing-other-states/joseph-clewley-2/

 


CUE Texas Shirley-Hunt-jpg3) Henderson, Texas –Shirley Hunt, age 72, went missing in June 2007. Shirley was last seen walking from her residence in Henderson about 3 p.m.  Shirley was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease; http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/missing-persons/missing-other-states/texasshirley-hunt-148×150/


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4) Pleasanton, Kansas- Richard Clark, age 67, went missing in October 2005. Richard was a former truck driver and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He was last seen in his community at a local grocery store and /or truck stop.  http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/missing-persons/missing-other-states/texasshirley-hunt-148×150/

 


Please assist us by reading and circulating this information. You may never know if it triggers a memory or piece of information to assist in their recovery. The elderly are precious citizens. 

Listen to this recent Shattered Lives podcast with Kimberly Kelly of Project Far From Home to get a better understanding about searching for the elderly with dementia and Alzheimers.

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References – http://www.alz.org/facts/overview.asp

http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/

 Secrets of McClellanville and the Death of Brittanee Drexel

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When loss of life is involved, particularly in a cruel, violent manner, it is only natural that there is public outrage. People rush to judgment to try to justify their opinions in the heat of the moment – in the acute phase. Concerning the location in which a crime occurred, we often broad brush all residents and their culture as inherently evil. This is wrong. No town or city should be thought of as a reincarnation of White Pines Bay – the fictitious location of the Bates Motel or Amityville, New York, just because a criminal element has frequented a town.

After years of searches and investigation by multiple law enforcement agencies, the rural town of McClellanville, South Carolina has unequivocally been pinpointed as the place where 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel spent her final days on earth, rather than her upstate New York home. If this is so with irrefutable evidence, we must believe it. But, in the hearts of the Drexel family and friends, this cannot be imagined, without a perpetrator, without her precious body.

Given this information, it does not mean that all residents of McClellanville are heartless. We have to ask, why have someone not come forward, particularly with a $25,000 reward publicized for credible information.  If I had to speculate, perhaps, they may be scared, frightened of retribution. Their silence could mean that they don’t have a good reason to trust law enforcement. Possibly residents feel that any information they may have “in the cobwebs of their mind” times 7 years ago is insignificant. Possibly they do not believe that offering any information will lead to a monetary reward for them personally, so why risk it?

Such is the thinking that tries men’s souls and keeps families and law enforcement constantly on edge.

History and Demographics

128657464991113191800301197_BRITTANEE_DREXELMcClellanville, situated in northeast Charleston County is on US Route 17 heading 23 miles northeast to Georgetown and 38 miles southwest to Charleston. McClellanville is populated by 500 or so people – a Mayberry RFD by some standards. This town, in the parish of St. James –Santee was incorporated into the Church of England in 1706, but settled by the French as early as 1605. It has always been an agricultural economy. They feature many historic properties, small town life, Bible school and their trademark is their shrimping fleet and seafood industry.  Natural resources include Jeremy Creek, running through the center of town, and south toward the Intercoastal Waterway adjacent to Romain National Wildlife Refuge (66,287 acres).  Nearly 57% are age 25 to 64, with almost 20% – age 65 + years.

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They showed their resilience in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo destroyed much of the town. People were saved by crawling into a space above a false ceiling in the high school-storm shelter.

What Happened to Brittanee?

It doesn’t make sense to me that a possible human trafficker or sexual predator would “stick around Mayberry” for several days with an innocent teenager who could clearly be distinguished by her northeastern dialect without notice.  Crime never makes any sense… Brittanee was abducted and held against her will we are told. Was she “free to do errands for this man” but clearly under his control around town under threat of death, or forced to perform other favors in a hotel or abandoned property?  Did the perpetrator have ties to McClellanville or was he a transient predator? Did Brittanee reach out and try to secretly ask for help which ultimately lead to her death? Was she persuaded with initial sweet talk and lies that her family didn’t care about her and to come on an adventure? We may never know.

As a northeasterner, I drove from Myrtle Beach through McClellanville to Charleston a couple of years ago and barely noticed this nondescript town.

I thought this at the time, as I am a suburban –city slicker at heart. Now, I will never forget as it has a much deeper meaning now.

How do we encourage people to have e a conscience for the betterment of others no matter what the risk? This is God-fearing, church going folks after all!  It would truly help if the media put a positive spin on proactivity. The little town ofMcClellanville could be known forever as “the town that saved a family, saved a girl with such promise from New York!” They did the right thing for missing persons everywhere!  Let us all hope and pray that they do!

maxresdefaultProfiles and Contact Information for Brittanee-

http://helpfindbrittaneedrexel.com/submit-a-confidential-tip/

http://www.ncmissingpersons.org/fbi-offers-reward-in-09-brittanee-drexel-case-rochester-teen-likely-killed/