Missing Hiker

11:52 p.m. on January 3, 2008 (EST)
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Just heard that a Young Female Hiker, and her Black Dog is missing in Unicio-Blood Mtn. area of Georgia...
Witness by others that she was last seen speaking with someone with a Dog at the Trailhead parking lot.
She been missing since Jan 1st.

Old Hermit

9:50 a.m. on January 4, 2008 (EST)
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I've been following this story too and really hoping it has a happy ending.

I'm far more worried about her since there is a person of interest they're looking for in regards to her disappearance, than if she was a straightforward missing (lost or injured) hiker.

Her poor family must be frantic.

11:07 a.m. on January 4, 2008 (EST)
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We've been following the story as well.

7:48 a.m. on January 7, 2008 (EST)
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I have been following this all weekend and it looks like it is going to have a very bad ending. I didn't know the girl but I really wanted it to have a happy ending. It upsets me, not just because someone lost their life, but because I go out into nature to get away from this type of thing. To try and find peace away from the tensions of the big city. It seems that it is all too common in our society today...and the guy will probably get a slap on the wrist (for another thread\forum).

Right along these lines, and maybe this is for a different thread as well, but I thought that I noticed an increase in outdoor tragedy related news on CNN.com this morning. There is a the ski bus that overturned and the snowmobilers in Colorado that have been missing since Friday. I wonder if the media is turning their spotlights into the backcountry or if I was just hypersensitive given the story of the hiker?

8:08 a.m. on January 7, 2008 (EST)
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I was not aware of the bus incident or the snowmobilers- I will follow both stories now though!

In my opinion, the increased media attention may be a combination of the two reasons you cited. After all it is winter. It would seem that more bad things happen outdoors this time of year. Example: Look at the national coverage the MT. Hood tragedies got.

Accidents and "events" can, of course, happen at any time of the year, but there are way more variables during the winter.

We always say "Hope for the best, but plan for the worst".

Note: Because there seems to be some interest in following these sorts of events, I've created a separate space to report some missteps and successes in the out doors. Please see "Outdoor Incidents" to read about or report them.

9:32 a.m. on January 7, 2008 (EST)
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I am very sad and angry about how this has tragedy has turned out. The loss of this young woman was a senseless act of violence that will be felt by her family, friends, and community forever.

Several years ago another young woman was randomly abducted and murdered from the college (my alma mater) at which I then worked. In an attempt to find an explanation for such a horrendous tragedy we often think that the victim had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, one thing that victim’s mother said in the press stuck with me.

Her daughter was NOT in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her daughter was exactly where she was supposed to be, doing exactly what she was supposed to doing (in that case, in a parking lot getting ready to drive to an early morning doctor’s appointment). It was the perpetrator who was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing.

I think it’s very important to remember that in cases like this as well. It puts the accountability squarely where it belongs.

Being prepared while hiking and backpacking is a big topic around here, but no one (female or male) should ever have to worry about someone else causing them such harm. Sadly for Meredith Emerson and her family this outcome looks like their worst case scenario. Nothing can bring her back, but I hope justice is served and her family and friends eventually find some sense of peace.

10:04 a.m. on January 7, 2008 (EST)
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I've been following this - apparently they've recovered various bloody garments and a bloody seatbelt, and the van the (apparent) killer owned (missing the rear seatbelt). He's a 61 year old - and this killing may be connected to another that he's suspected of (two people).

As Alicia states, this isn't in any way, shape or form the fault of Meredith (although I'm certain that, when it comes to trial, the defense attorney will attempt to point the finger of blame her way) - what it points out (in my opinion) to the backcountry community is that we need to watch out for each other and report suspicious characters and behavior to the authorities. We also need to evaluate situations and people we come across and, if possible, do what we can to avoid those which send up red flags.
Like Alicia, I can only hope that whoever perpetuated this tragic event comes to justice and that the family can find some sense of closure in the wake of this event.

On rare occasions, I've run into people that just didn't seem "right" - typically at trail heads or within a couple miles of pavement. I'll admit that, even for a 6'2" tall guy in fairly decent condition, it's made me feel uncomfortable. These folks may have been "dangerous" or they might just have been "colorful" - but a friend of mine (with whom I used to climb) had a saying (he applied it to placing protection, but it fits for most situations) - "when in doubt, doubt".

Let your instincts be your guide when it comes to people you meet on and off the trail, and be careful out there.

1:32 a.m. on January 8, 2008 (EST)
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People in general just need to keep an eye out for each other. Its nice to see normal people here who would do so, I live my day to day life, running into way to many people who do not see beyond their nose.

9:51 a.m. on January 8, 2008 (EST)
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damn shame - they found her body -

"Gary Michael Hilton, 61, had been charged Saturday with kidnapping with intent of bodily injury. He appeared on Monday before a judge who denied his request for bail.

Hours later, he led investigators to a spot in a wooded area in north Georgia where they found the body of Meredith Emerson, said John Cagle, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Field Division in Cleveland, Ga."

11:09 a.m. on January 8, 2008 (EST)
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This may sound inconsiderate of me, but...Reports said her dog was found 50 miles away. Was it alive?

11:22 a.m. on January 8, 2008 (EST)
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Yes, the dog was found alive. Which led to the discovery of the bloody clothes and seatbelt in a nearby dumpster. Also the suspect apparently had made a phone call from a pay phone in the vicinity. The dog was identified positively by an embedded microchip (more wonders of modern technology). So, not an "unfeeling" question, since the dog apparently is playing an important role in resolving the mystery.

1:59 p.m. on January 8, 2008 (EST)
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for more news go to http://www.ajc.com/ Sign up is free. I've seen a couple of errors in the other news agencies.
The dog was found 30 miles from the parking lot at Vogel not 50 like some news sources stated.

I know these areas quite well having hiked them many times. It's a very popular area with Vogel getting the most traffic. Far from being secluded. They are lucky he cooperated with finding her body. Lot's of FS roads criss cross the area with plenty of hiding places.

Read once but haven't seen it since that he supposedly going to use the insanity defense.

7:03 p.m. on January 8, 2008 (EST)
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"Because of a natural human interest in misfortune, and because dramatic tales may lend legitimacy to a point of view, or product, or to an authoritarian personality,* ...'

2:06 p.m. on January 9, 2008 (EST)
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Normally I'm against the death penalty, but there are instances where I waiver - one of those times was when I read the following:


I'm really not sure what the appropriate actions are for the state to take in an instance this random, this senseless, this, well, in-human - no - sub-human.

7:13 p.m. on January 14, 2008 (EST)
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Something else, I've heard hikers before say it, the further from the parking lot you get, the less danger you'll find.

Just wondering what the stats on that are, as we have heard more about hiking deaths in the last couple of years it seems like.

I still think you have a higher chance of getting struck by lightening.

But me and my g/f did run into two kids who where trying to break into cars in the parking of White Oak in SNP here in Virginia.

I just imagine in my head, that most criminals since they want to escape don't venture miles deep into trails, then again, I've heard people tell stories of pot growers and stuff......

? It is a real shame about what happened to this poor girl though. This is why its not safe to go alone.

Just last weekend, me and my g/f did a hike locally on a 10 mile stretch in First Landing, and we noticed like 6 single women alone, pass us on the trail. My g/f made the comment about how many women where out today, but I brought up how unsafe I felt that was.

7:50 a.m. on January 15, 2008 (EST)
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Let's not take this thread down the "guns in the backcountry" road. Been there, done that, and it always gets ugly, so let's just agree to disagree and then move on. Gun posts and irrelevant statistical surveys will be deleted.

4:17 p.m. on January 15, 2008 (EST)
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a tragedy

7:41 p.m. on January 15, 2008 (EST)
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So my GF asks me if I would mind her going on a hike alone, my immediate thoughts circle around this poor girl in Georgia. I told her that I am very uncomfortable with her being alone out on the trail and why. She decides she won't be going alone. Whether she didn't go because of fear or because of my feelings (probably the latter) is unknown to me, but it put me at ease. She is very pretty (and tough) and would likely be a target should some creep like that guy in Georgia cross paths with her. I might just be over protective or paranoid, but I would never forgive myself should something like this happen. It is a completely unfair double standard, as I go alone pretty often, but one that should be seriously thought about. I am not saying that a female hiker cannot go alone, but she should exercise much more precaution and be trained in some self-defense IMHO.

9:35 p.m. on January 15, 2008 (EST)
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As one of the few females around here, I feel the need to respond to the issue of safety for solo women hikers and backpackers. Sorry this is so long.

There are obvious safety precautions everyone should take outdoors: being prepared for the potential conditions and terrain, telling others where you’re going and when you’ll be back, being aware of your surroundings and others, listening to your gut instincts in regard to personal safety (this covers other people and the terrain and conditions), and so on.

Sometimes women are encouraged to bring along a dog, in the absence of another hiker. You also can avoid telling strangers you’re hiking or backpacking alone by alluding to a friend or spouse you’re waiting for on the trail and so on. Don’t give out personal info, especially about your hiking plans. Trust your instincts. You don’t have to feel rude, but if someone or something feels off, it’s good to listen to your gut and avoid the situation. (I think women can have a hard time wanting to be nice, even when unsure of someone, but ultimately you should listen to what your gut is saying.)

From what I read in this article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (http://www.ajc.com/search/content/metro/stories/2008/01/10/hiking0110.html) Meredith Emerson did much of the usual safety stuff: knew the area, told others where she was going, brought her dog along, and so on. It's easy to second guess what she might have done differently, but she certainly wasn't behaving irresponsibly.

I think it’s really important to remember that examples like her murder are the extreme (hence the news coverage and absorption). Most people go hiking, backpacking, or trail running daily without a threat from other people.

However, while I believe most people are decent, it seems there will always be that one individual who is not. So I would caution other women to follow safety cautions if/when they choose to hike, run, or backpack alone.

On the flip side though, I also think there is a risk in not going out hiking and backpacking due to fears of something like this. Obviously, like all of you, I think getting out into the outdoors is an extremely meaningful and important (I’d even say necessary) activity for my own mental and physical well-being. And I think people should feel comfortable doing the same: whether alone or in groups.

While I usually hike or backpack with my husband or occasionally friends, I admit to regularly trail running and occasionally hiking on my own. For running, I do things like not having a regular route and routine (you couldn’t look at your watch and expect me to go by a certain spot at a certain time). I don’t run with earphones on. I stay aware of my surroundings and others. I always let someone know where I’m going. While friendly, I keep a certain space between myself and other people, especially ones in cars asking for directions. I follow the same sort of rules when hiking. I do feel safer the farther away I am from roads and trailheads.

Ultimately, I think it’s most important to be aware of your surroundings and listen to your instincts. But we can never mitigate all risk in the outdoors or from others.

I hope an extreme and very tragic case like this does not keep other women from enjoying the backcountry safely. Meredith Emerson’s murder is a horrible tragedy for her family and friends and community. It makes me sad and mad that not only did a man senselessly kill her, but that he has tainted the solitude of the outdoors for many hikers—especially women.

1:05 a.m. on January 16, 2008 (EST)
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Well said Alicia, I couldn't agree more.

7:49 a.m. on January 16, 2008 (EST)
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I have to admit, some of the people you run into, deep in the Georgia woods, can be pretty scary. I've had a couple of occasions where I felt my life was in danger.

Once while hitch-hiking on a backpacking trip, I've actually had to grab my camping partner by the back of his collar and roll out the back of a jeep to escape someone who wanted to do us harm. They later threw our packs out.

I hate to say it, but in my expereince I don't think it matters what sex you are. It's more of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

8:23 a.m. on January 16, 2008 (EST)
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Alicia - " You also can avoid telling strangers you’re hiking or backpacking alone by alluding to a friend or spouse you’re waiting for on the trail and so on. "

- be really careful of that - while it seems to makes sense - if you do so and get caught in a lie there's no telling how the other person will react - without regard to your gender.

Other than that, right on! I think we all, as a community (a loose one, I'll admit) of folks who like to enjoy the backcountry solo just need to look out for one another. Actually, as human beings we should be doing that anyhow no matter where we happen to be. It makes the world a far nicer place to live.

5:02 p.m. on January 16, 2008 (EST)
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Really well said Alicia.

I have a good friend (and my main climbing partner) who's a solo runner and sometimes skier. We discuss this from time-to-time, because mostly I do worry about her safety (double standard for sure, but, I not only large, but, expendable, ha ha).

She's pretty tough, and, pretty saavy when it comes to strangers and "reading" people (uncanny with that, really). She sometimes carries a little pepper spray dealy on her key chain but not that often. And, she'd cheat in a fight to be sure.

She does want a "permit" to carry and has an EXTREME aversion to being a victim. Extreme to the point where she probably over does it and as a result, is hard to get to know her or to make new friends. Whether that is good or bad in the long run, who knows.

We've talked specifically about this particular incident, as, we were on the road while this story was developing. For a couple of the days, I was fairly sick with the flu, and, she couldn't not go running. In Red Rocks. Solo, on some of the trails there. I kinda tossed the "what if" at her following one of her runs, and, she just didn't seem that concerned. She's purposely vague about the distance and who might be around, but, pleasant in passing to someone. Interesting to get her put. She will not not run. And, she loves the trails in Red Rocks (and near home, too).

Yeah, I think this kind of stuff is super rare. But, it really plays on our fears.

Good food for thought.

-Brian in SLC

11:14 a.m. on January 20, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks for all of the comments.

Like so many things, I think you have to find the balance between being safe and prepared for potential risks and not living your life in fear of every imaginable scenario.

It is a bit of a double standard. Several years ago, I was running at lunchtime with the cross-country coach at the college I used to work at. He was showing me where some different trails went and casually mentioned something about it being safer for a woman to be shown the trails with someone who knew them. This man is one of the nicest I’ve ever met and he wasn’t being arrogant or macho or anything. But it struck me that I’d never even considered my solo, daytime runs on these trails as potentially dangerous. I wasn’t sure if I thought he was being overprotective or if I was being naïve.

I’m still not sure. This is an area I know extremely well. I only went in daylight. I occasionally saw other runners I knew or knew of in the same areas. Common sense and awareness is necessary, but I don’t think there’s a magic formula that keeps anyone safe no matter what.

Since then (and much more so since a murder that happened on the same campus) I’ve thought much more about personal safety when I’m out alone. I tend to do the stuff we talked about above and remain very aware of other people. But I haven’t stopped running or hiking.

1:34 p.m. on February 1, 2008 (EST)
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Well, closure. The drifter copped a guilty plea - life in prison - possible parole after 30 years (given that he's 61 it's not likely he'll ever make it). Now they're looking into some other "incidents". Apparently his motivation was to steal money - she gave him a bogus PIN for her ATM card -which infuriated him. He beat her to death with a tire iron.

3:44 p.m. on February 2, 2008 (EST)
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1:01 p.m. on February 4, 2008 (EST)
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I'm so ugly no one would bother me, but I have seen young women on the trail alone, and in small groups and wonder how safe it is for them. I hate to be paranoid. I worked corrections, and hated it. I learned there are very sick and cunning people out there. They look normal. Some sexual predators arn't your usual criminal and don't look it. The only crimes they commit are sexual. Some jog, swim, hike, canoe, some have university degrees. Often there married with families - and look just fine. Act normal in their own neighbourhoods.

I guess what I'm saying - is that I'm a little paranoid. Sorry.

2:01 p.m. on February 4, 2008 (EST)
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It's becoming a scary place, this planet we live on. That's why WE try to get as far away from people as we can. A "little" paranoia isn't bad. Thinking that NOTHING can happen to you...ever... well, that's just like asking for trouble.

To me a "little paranoia" = cautious.

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