Just a note to let you know that the techniques you’re teaching DO work!  I recently took the Track Aware course in Barstow, California, and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Barstow is in the high desert, with the ground consisting primarily of hard packed sand, gravel, and rocks.  By the end of the 3 day class, my teammates and I were successfully following sign through this terrain, day and night.

Imagine the surprise the following afternoon (Monday) to get called to a Search in the mountains East of San Diego.  Same hard ground.  Same type of brush, only a little more of it.  But this time the tracks were for real, and we were looking for a depressed woman with a handgun that had walked away from her residence Sunday afternoon.  Helicopters had been up all day Monday, but by now (late afternoon) they had to return to base for fuel.  My team’s first assignment was to search a dirt road leading away from the residence, in the direction of a single gunshot heard the previous day.  We cut for sign leaving the road, with no success.   Next assignment - check a hillside across the valley from the residence.  No sign, other than the coyotes that had been through after the last rain (muddy prints, hard as a rock, partially filled in with blown dust and sand).  Back down to the creekbed below the residence, again with no luck.  Back up to the residence for another assignment, and to take another look at the signature footprint that had been preserved by the boyfriend and Deputies on the dirt driveway leading to the residence.  By now it’s getting dark.  We looked at the terrain (steep hillsides with a creek in the middle), and thought maybe the gunshot heard by several people had echoed off the hill on the opposite side of the valley.  We got permission to cut for sign on the hill above the driveway, and found a small toe-dig.  We called in, and determined that no other search teams had been in the area.  We found the next track, then the next, then – well you get the idea. Up an abandoned fire road with jagged ruts 2 feet deep.   Ground so hard that the 120# subject had left only scuff marks, except for a couple of excellent tracks in a dusty area that matched exactly those on the driveway.   About 1/3 of a mile in, we came to a turnaround, that overlooked the valley.   Off to the side, was a large flat boulder where she would come to sunbathe.   Next to the rock, under the surrounding brush, lay gun and the body of the woman.   The rest of the searchers were called back to base.

The mixture of emotions were interesting.  Adrenaline rush after finding the first toe-dig.  Then again at finding the first signature track on the fire road.  Apprehension following the tracks, knowing she may be watching, and she was reported as being armed.  Fear the moment I spotted the gun, then a sinking in my gut when I saw her body and the blood trail.  A few minutes later, elation over the fact that we’d successfully followed her route, and that now her family could have closure of some kind.

We explained our findings to the deputies and later the Medical Examiner when they got there.  Both were impressed that we could definitely tell them she was the only one to come up the road, and that no one had been close to her after the shot.  The shot, by the way, HAD echoed off the far hillside, and given an erroneous initial direction for the search.

The patience and attention to detail taught in your class, and then utilized by myself and the others on my team were a big factor in this operation being followed to the end, and being immediately turned over to the M.E., rather than Homicide.

Thanks for the experience.

Rusty Hoar

San Diego Mountain Rescue Team (WWW.SDMRT.ORG)
hoarr@mailhost.ftscpac.navy.mil