Geraldine Largay disappeared from the Appalachian Trail in Maine on July 22, 2013. She had planned on meeting her husband at a road crossing the next day. Two years later, her remains were still not found. I had planned on posting this article on a significant piece of information pertaining to her disappearance last July, but did not manage to do so before I was hit with my tremendous fatigue. Here is the article: http://thebollard.com/2015/06/30/m-i-a-on-the-a-t/
Although it is long, it is well worth the read. It goes into depth about the Navy SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training school which is located on a large section of property adjacent to the Appalachian Trail for approximately a mile to the north and south of the shelter Gerry was last seen at. (Interestingly, there is also one on the west coast, very close to the PCT in Warner Springs, CA). This school employs psychological and physical torture tactics on its students to prepare them for war scenarios. Participants role play escape, capture, and torture scenarios in the wilderness. Brown writes, “David J. Morris said he underwent SERE training as a lieutenant in 1995. ‘I was hooded, beaten, starved, stripped naked, and hosed down in the December air until I became hypothermic,’ he wrote. ‘When I forgot my prison number, I was strapped to a gurney and made to watch as a fellow prisoner was water-boarded a foot away from me. I will never forget the sound of that young sailor choking, seemingly near death, paying for my mistake’.” Many participants are deprived of sleep, tortured, and confused by the reality of the situation. I do not believe that I was aware of this school or its property during my thru-hike, and after reading this article, I am thankful that I did not know about it then.
The article also mentions that a call was placed to the owner of the Stratton Motel, where Gerry and her husband planned to stay on Wednesday night. The unidentified caller said that Gerry would be late. This call is hugely suspicious to me, No other hiker on the AT had seen Gerry after she left the shelter that Monday morning. The previous night and that morning, she was in very high spirits. She had only 8 miles to hike on Monday, and 13.5 on Tuesday. Only someone that played a part in her disappearance would have known that she would not arrive on time (or at all). It is even more suspicious that the Maine Warden Service stated that they knew who the unidentified caller was and then backtracked when pressed. Hutch Brown wrote, “When I asked Lt. Kevin Adam of the Maine Warden Service about this, he said, ‘We’re sure we know who made the phone call, but the verbiage was screwed up.’ After I expressed surprise that they’d identified the caller, Lt. Adam backtracked a bit. ‘I believe we know who made the call,’ he said. ‘A little got lost in translation.’ The caller was reported to have been a female by the Stratton Motel owner.
After reading this article, I felt that the answers concerning Gerry’s disappearance and death could be found within the borders of the SERE school. It seems highly likely to me that a sensory deprived participant in this mock escape and capture scenario came upon Largay as she hiked this section of the AT that practically touches the SERE property and confused her as an “enemy”. However, this scenario was not even questioned nor were searches conducted on much of the SERE property! Clearly, the SERE school holds great power over all of the search and rescue groups and state departments and was not willing to cooperate with search efforts. I do not understand why more pressure was/could not have been exerted upon them.
Brown writes, “When I first called Lt. Adam, a lead investigator and spokesperson for the Warden Service, I asked him about the SERE School. ‘I don’t know anything about that,’ he said. He wasn’t sure whether there had been a SERE course in progress the week Largay vanished or not. (At the end of that week, helicopter pilots spotted campfires inside the facility and initially thought they were a sign of Largay; they later determined SERE students had set them.)”
“The staff and students of the SERE School aren’t just inclined to be secretive about what goes on there; they’re legally bound to keep it classified. But according to Prosser, neither he nor his staff have even been questioned by state authorities about Largay’s case. ‘I was never interviewed,’ he told my editor, ‘and I don’t recall any interviews with members of my staff.’
On October 14, a “contractor” discovered the skeletal remains of Largay. It was no surprise to me that they were located on the SERE property about 2-3 miles from the Appalachian Trail. The case was dismissed and many people commented on the fact that her family now at least has closure. To me, and to the author of this article, this finding would bring anything but closure! http://chrisbusby.bangordailynews.com/2015/10/22/politics/case-of-missing-a-t-hiker-far-from-closed/
Her family declined to comment until they could process the information.
Many hikers have commented that the section of the trail she was on was very well marked. In order to get to where she was found on her own, she would have had to bushwack through tough terrain for 2-3 miles! This was a very happy woman who was fulfilling a dream of hers, scheduled to meet her loving husband the next day. She also had a whistle on her backpack strap. If something had happened to her in which she felt in danger, she would have blown the whistle if she could have.
At the end of October, her case was officially declared closed. An article in the Portland Press Herald reported, “The skeletal remains of Largay were found Oct. 14 in a wooded area about 3,000 yards off the trail, two or three miles from where she was last seen in July 2013, authorities said.
‘These findings now bring closure to one of Maine’s most unique and challenging search and rescue incidents,’ Cpl. John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service said in a statement.
Appalachian Trail thru-hiker Geraldine Largay died of exposure and lack of food and water, according to an autopsy by the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
The Maine Warden Service announced the results of the state medical examiner’s inquiry, which also used DNA to confirm Largay’s identity.
A cellphone found with the remains was examined by the Maine State Police Computer Crime Lab.
‘Information found on the cellphone concluded that Gerry reached Orbeton Stream and the discontinued railroad bed crossing in the late morning of July 22, 2013. Shortly after reaching that intersection, she continued north on the Appalachian Trail and at some point left the trail and became lost,’ MacDonald’s statement said. ‘After examination of the remains and working in conjunction with information from investigators on the case, the Chief Medical Examiner determined this was an accidental death due to lack of food and water and environmental exposure’.”
This report is an injustice to Gerry and to her family. She did not become lost and bushwack 2-3 miles off the trail. The AT is well blazed, and any long distance hiker who has not seen a white blaze in awhile and thinks they are lost knows to turn around and backtrack until they find one again. She did not remain silent while teams of searchers and dogs and helicopters were scouring the area trying to find her. She did not lie down and wait weeks to die from starvation without searching for water or for help. She had a cell phone that she texted her husband from that morning. Even if she was out of range, she would have kept walking until she found reception. She did not die from “exposure”. She was well equipped to survive cold temperatures for long periods of time (and this was July!). If she was incapacitated by a medical event, she would not have been able to get to the place she was found. Gerry’s family deserves real answers. They, at the very least, deserve to know what actually caused her disappearance and death. There are many questions that still need to be answered and I hope that pressure will be exerted on the officials at the SERE school to cooperate and provide much more information. This could have happened (and might still happen) to any one of us hiking the Appalachian Trail!