Former law enforcement officer and founder of the CanAm Missing project, David Paulides believes that around 1,600 people who have vanished in various National Parks fit certain criteria, forming “chilling new patterns” that may explain many of the mysterious disappearances.
This is not just a regular conspiracy theory either; currently there is no centralized registry or database of people who have gone missing in national parks or forests. When search and rescue teams fail to find a missing person within these lands, no record is kept. In cases where a body is found, no records are required either. This means that while 1,600 sounds like a lot, Paulides can’t be certain. It could be even higher. Grieving families are left to wonder what happened to their loved ones. There are online petitions asking the Department of the Interior to create a national registry which would keep track of or account for all persons who go missing in public parks or forests. This would — hopefully — continue search efforts.
The government does not keep track of how many people have disappeared in the country’s 640 million acres of untouched land. Paulides notes that search efforts for a missing person, especially in the wilderness, flounders after a week. There simply are not enough resources, in either manpower or finances, to support a more lengthy endeavor. What’s more, much of the land is inaccessible and helicopters are expensive to operate. To strike out on foot would take longer than a victim could survive, in most cases, because many of these areas are so large it would be like the old saying, “looking for a needle in a haystack.” Thus, Paulides began CanAm Missing as a resource for families and park rangers to meet and discuss specific cases. CanAm eventually evolved into a study on missing people who vanished in the wild, with many occurring under very unusual circumstances.
How unusual is unusual? Well, it could give even conspiracy theorists the jitters. Paulides notes some of the occurring similarities:
Before you jump to conclusions though, many experts say that many of these cases — while it cannot be verified — involve people who are panicking. Rational behavior typically goes out of the window. Robert Koester, author of the search and rescue guidebook Lost Person Behavior says that people tend to switch to “scramble mode” when they’re lost. “Heading for higher ground is a known strategy for a lost person,” Koester writes. Building from this, pragmatists hypothesize that inexperienced hikers can easily fall off a cliff, hit their head, and die. Other panicked behavior can explain seemingly bizarre outcomes.
Koester says, “I am a scientist. I’m fond of Occam’s razor.” This is a mathematical principle which states that the simplest reasons typically are the truest. His response to parents who talk about kidnapping or even more far-out theories is simple. “You could have a band of terrorists tie [a person] to a tree. Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? No.”
Still, Paulides has self-published six volumes regarding missing persons and their unexplained disappearances. He asserts, “I don’t put any theories in the books — I just connect facts.” Not only does he list the common factors tying together all these cases, he reveals the worst places to get lost in: Yosemite, Crater Lake, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Even then, Paulides says that actually any park is potentially dangerous.
Regardless of where you stand as to why these people disappear, hundreds of nonprofits (typically started by families who have lost a loved one) say that there needs to be a national response to prevent further disappearances. David Francis, founder of the Jon Francis Foundation, lost his son in Idaho’s Custer County in 2006. He bemoans his son’s loss but says, “The search and rescue budget [in Custer County] was $5,000. If you go missing in a poor county, you’re gonna get a short, somewhat sloppy search. In my mind, that’s a national disgrace. Everybody knows someone with cancer. But it’s a minority who know someone gone missing.”
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