THE BUZZ: Found But Lost

By on August 9, 2016

Questions linger after Ohio teen spends 48 hours in the woods warranting a major search.

After an extensive search to locate missing teen Fauna Jackson, found after 48 hours near the Snake River overlook, it is still unlcear why the young woman fled into the wilderness. Right: a photo Jackson posted on Instagram of her Wyoming reading material.

After an extensive search to locate missing teen Fauna Jackson, found after 48 hours near the Snake River overlook, it is still unlcear why the young woman fled into the wilderness. Right: a photo Jackson posted on Instagram of her Wyoming reading material.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – It’s a story with a happy ending. No doubt things could have ended much worse for Fauna Jackson, 16, the Cincinnati teenager who came to Wyoming and almost didn’t leave.

During the 48 hours Jackson was AWOL, speculation ran wild among authorities, searchers, and her friends and family back home in Ohio. Every scenario was considered. Nothing was off the table: bear attack, abduction, or simply a lost girl in the wilderness.

When she was found, Jackson did not look like herself, or act like herself. She had altered her appearance so as not to be recognized. She may have dyed her hair, though a park spokesperson now says it’s possible her hair was simply darker after she cut it short.

“We are so relieved, grateful and excited to find her,” said Denise Germann, Grand Teton National Park spokesperson. “As for the details, our objective is to locate them and locate them alive. What she did in those days [she went missing] or why is outside the scope of our operations.”

Operations included a 115-member interagency search party comprised of park and forest rangers, Search and Rescue, sheriff’s deputies, Wyoming Civil Air Patrol, trained dogs, helicopters, and the FBI. Favors were called in and favors called themselves in to help, Germann said. She called it a success story of how the valley pulls together in times of need, and how the park’s list of allies and cooperatives can be counted on to rally at a moment’s notice.

Jackson’s parents arrived Monday to pick up their teen from the Five County juvenile holding center in St. Anthony, Idaho, where she was being held after a welfare check at St. John’s Medical Center.

The who, what, when and—thankfully—where have been answered in this story. It’s the ‘why’ that has left a community that hoped and hunted for her mystified.

Gone in 60 seconds

On Thursday morning around 8:30, the day Fauna walked into the Jackson flora and vanished, the teenager told her peers she was going off for a ‘nature break’ to use the bathroom. That’s the last anyone saw of her for two days.

Day one of the search turned up nothing—no sign of an encounter with a predator. Then a hiking boot was found. It was not the one she was wearing when she walked off the job, her friends said. Fallen from her pack in a struggle? Left purposely to confound searchers? No one knew.

The search grid was widened on the second day of the search, the perimeter expanded into the national forest. Meanwhile, back home in Ohio, Jackson’s friends and family anxiously waited.

This wasn’t like Fauna, they said. The 10th grader was a straight-A student at Clark Montessori and president of the Vegan Club.

“I know her and I know this is not something that she would do of her own accord,” Chad Vahue, Jackson’s high school math teacher, told NBC affiliate WLWT.

Tanner Yess, a youth leader with Groundwork Cincinatti, was with Jackson right before she went missing. He told media outlets later, “This, I don’t think anyone saw coming but right now we’re just relieved.”

Jackson’s stepfather, James Bennett, told authorities activity on her debit had ceased on the day she went missing. He and his wife were devastated and frantic, according to reports from WLWT-TV. Bennett said his daughter loved nature and was experienced in the woods—hiking and camping. Still, he wondered how long she could survive in the Wyoming wild.

There was no sign of trouble with the group Jackson was traveling with. Robin Corathers, executive director of the Cincinnati branch of Groundwork USA, told NBC News that Jackson worked hard and got along well with the 14 other youth in her summer program. “She did great work. She loved working outside, and demonstrated leadership potential. This was unexpected and there was no warning,” she said.

A check of Jackson’s Instagram account turned up the usual. Regular posts documented her trip out West—photos from Yellowstone, etc. The last post, on the day before she walked off, was a selfie of Jackson with her peers along with the statement: “Last day in Wyoming is tomorrow. I can’t wait to be home and see everyone. Today I am going to be blazing a trail, pretty siked (sic). I love you all a bunch and can’t wait to see all of you soon.”

If Jackson was looking to get lost, that Thursday was her last chance. Oddly, another Instagram post, uploaded just before Jackson left for Wyoming, included a photo of a book she was reading: A Lesson Before Dying. The Ernest J. Gaines novel centers on a man who struggles with the desire to leave his hometown for another state.

Many of these clues have trickled in after the fact—indications that Jackson may have pulled a Cheryl Strayed. Wild. But nothing about her home life pointed to an unhappy teen looking to get away.

End game

After reports came in to dispatch of a young girl seen hitchhiking late Friday night, authorities focused their search efforts Saturday morning on an area near the Snake River overlook, about four miles from where Jackson disappeared while working with the volunteer trail crew near Triangle X Ranch.

Two park rangers and a sheriff’s deputy spotted a girl alone in the sagebrush. What should have been a joyful moment of relief, tears and hugging wasn’t.

“Fauna,” one of the searchers reportedly called, “Fauna, is that you?”

Jackson took one look at the uniformed officers and ran.

The teen had to be chased and restrained. She was transported, cuffed, to St. John’s where she was pronounced healthy despite spending two nights out in the cold with little gear or adequate clothing. She was questioned and transported to Idaho where the Five County youth facility is better equipped to care for teenagers in custody, according to Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen.

Germann said a bill for the massive hunt has not yet been tallied. She expects one by the end of the week. She also said the teen’s family will not be asked to compensate authorities for the costs of Jackson’s search efforts, per park policy. PJH

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