Dad & Stepson Find “HELP” Written in Sand & End Up Solving the Case of a Missing Person

An amazing journey to search

Believe in destiny? If you didn’t, nobody would blame you. The hand of fate is hard to spot in this day and age, and it seems that any choice we create is driven by hundreds of unknown forces–fate is not one of them. However, one specific incident that took place recently in Idaho could challenge the notion that fate has left us to fend for ourselves.

A teenage girl was gone from her home. Not that special, right? Annoyed with their friends, or class, often teens need to cool off somewhere. This teen’s only been isolated. She had a much younger person’s mental capacity and didn’t know the environment at all. A distance away, a dad and his stepson found a message in the soil on a hunting trip. Moving for their hearts, they showed–possibly unwittingly–that you should not rule out destiny.

 Was it destiny, or was it just a case of being in the right place at the right time? We may never know, but it wouldn’t be just another one of their routine hunting trips when a father and his stepson made their way to the family cabin in rural Idaho.

Stepson and Dad

The two found the world “Help” scrawled in dirt and mud rather than deer or any other wild game. Thinking of discarding it initially, they made the decision to go with their instincts which led them to break a case of missing and endangered people.


There are about 14,000 permanent residents in Hayden village. And yet, thanks to the wild and beautiful landscape of the area, it gets its fair share of visitors. Chris Trumbich and his 15-year-old stepson, Ryle Gordon, were two of such visitors who come in every now and then to discover and hunt around the city and surrounding areas.

This was just to be another hunting trip, close to many that they enjoyed together in the past. While they were there, they decided to go up to their house, because Ryle told local news media that he was “born and raised” in it. Nevertheless, as soon as they got there, they could see that it would be no ordinary trip.


Chris and Ryle came across a search party during the trip to the lodge. The two learned about the search party’s attempt to sour the town for the lost 19-year-old Kathryn “Katie” Ogle, who had vanished. However, this was not just another case of an anxious teen running from home.


Katie had several medical alerts and a 10-to 12-year-old child’s cognitive ability. She had just moved to the area and was not familiar with it, and without wearing boots or any weather-appropriate clothing she went lost in the middle of the night. Officers were concerned and urged people to check for any indication of her from outside buildings such as barns or sheds.


Although homeowners were also advised to check at their security camera footage to potentially catch a glimpse of Kate, a 60-man search party combed through the woods, accompanied by search dogs. The group on the field was joined by several eyes in the sky overhead, composed of both emergency services staff and volunteers.

Helicopter Search Team

People from Washington joined to aid, stressing the importance of locating Katie–and fast! No one could tell what kind of difficulty the 5-foot-four, 100-pound teenager might have had. She was a prime target for her blonde hair and green eyes, not to mention the obvious dangers lurking all around.


Chris was already familiar with the story of Katie’s disappearance through news reports before making the drive to Hayden. “We discovered there was a missing girl up there before we left,” he said later. Not only that, but the younger Ryle felt they could be of help to the search party, seeing as they were both experienced in the woods

“We’d likely be their best help,” Ryle told interviewees, “because we know this place like the back of our hand.” Father and stepson decided to drive on to their house, four miles ahead on a single-track path. This choice was going to prove vital to the hunt.


As the two hunters travelled the long, narrow dirt road leading to their property, they unexpectedly saw something in their tracks that made them stop dead. They saw something scrawled on the ground just before their vehicle in the dirt and mud.

Inscription “HELP” in dirt

The conditions had not yet made this disappear and in all capital letters the text read “HELP”. The two turned off the engine and stared at each other, then looked back. Who in the middle of nowhere could have left such a message?


Speaking of the concerns of both men, Ryle said, “That’s kind of creepy.” However, his stepfather thought the message had a very simple, non-creepy explanation.

For his cash, a hunter who shot deer or some other kind of game found in the area scrawled the message into the dirt, and perhaps simply needed assistance in carrying his game back to his vehicle


Nonetheless, Ryle held a completely different perspective. Katie had been weighing strongly on his mind since they had talked with the search party. While she was only four years older than him, he thought that assisting with the hunt was still their duty.

Suddenly, something hit him. Looking at the scribbled text, he didn’t have any question about the name of his writer – it was Katie. “There’s no way,” he recalled. “There’s no way.” Shocked, with his phone, he snapped a picture of the message.


While Chris must have been persuaded by Ryle’s thoughts, the two doubled back to the search party they had passed to the cabin on their route. They just noticed them in the nick of time

Some Members of the Search Party

It was getting dark out, and the searchers were about to go home for the night, leaving Katie in the forest to fend for herself. So, Chris and Ryle showed them Ryle’s picture taken, and the experts were as surprised as they were. It was time for a last try


Chris and Ryle were accompanied by the search party to the place of the text, where their representatives investigated it for themselves.

Seeing farther up the road, they noticed that there was only one more position left to cover – Chris and Ryle’s cabin were heading all the way. They started shouting for the teen once they entered the spot, but the motors of multiple vehicles made it difficult to hear something.


In an attempt to both minimize background noise to ensure that Katie was not scared away by the sound, the motor of each vehicle was turned off. It was now eerily quiet, only their flashlights breaking the gloom.

Search is On

When one rescue worker yelled, as Chris remembered, “Hello?” For a couple more minutes, everything remained quiet, but then all of them heard it as plain as day. Somebody said “hello” back to them on the hill. Their hearts started to race. Could it be her, really?


Where she got a sleeping bag was unclear, as when she left home, she didn’t even have shoes – if she was actually the object of the search. She was approached by a rescue worker. “What’s the name of you?” he asked. She timidly answered, “Katie.”


Katie has been discovered not far from the cabin of Chris and Ryle. They found an open can of nuts and some discarded matches as they went back to it and searched about. The sleeping bag that was probably the one Katie was trapped in was one they didn’t find.


Has she broken into the place? It’s far from it. The two deliberately leave the cabin open when they’re not around, so any hunters missing may have a place to rest and store up. Katie survived because that was exactly what she did.


Unfortunately, once she heard who Chris and Ryle were, Katie was shocked. She was afraid that they would be mad at her without permission to enter their cabin and take their stuff. That couldn’t have been further from the facts, of course.

“When she came out, she looked very scared,” Ryle recalled, “like we were going to scream at her because she was in the cabin.” Instead, they were thrilled that they could help find her.


It was incredible, but for helping Katie, Ryle and Chris refused to take any credit. They were just in the right place, at the right time, as far as they were concerned, and were able to help put the whole thing to a good, happy end.

Of course, it wasn’t just them, but their cabin also played a part. That very same cabin, Ryle said modestly, “just happened to be there for her.”


The two were not under any delusions, though. “If we weren’t here,” Ryle said, “she might have been gone.” Given that Chris acknowledged that she had nearly pushed the message she left without paying much mind to it, she was indeed very lucky.

And so, what might potentially end in disaster started with a short trip to the hospital instead – but only as a precaution. Katie was alright, and the authorities said she was in “relatively good condition,” and she had to thank two people – and their gut instincts.


To place the importance of Ryle and Chris being the ones who ended up discovering Katie in context, let’s look at who else was searching for her. The search party was made up of more than 60 people officially recruited for the task.

Search Team

Search dogs and aircraft from an air rescue company in Montana joined them on top of another aircraft that Idaho Civil Air Patrol had lent to the operation. All that workers, all that hardware – and a dad and his adolescent stepson find her.


There was still one question left. How did a teen with the reported cognitive impairment of Katie make it herself out of the house, let alone so far? And why is that? We know that she left her home in Idaho without “shoes or suitable attire.”

We do learn that she had just relocated to that house recently. All else is guesswork – and many people have sought to wonder on their motivations and intentions. She may have tried to get away from a bad home scenario, but the real reason might be more innocent.


When they left packing up and getting ready to love home, Ryle said that he and his father really hoped to see some deer and probably shoot them.

We all know how it turned out, and there was no chance for the two to do a lot of hunting, but they probably didn’t feel too broken about it. Still, the gap between their expectations and how reality ended up playing out is interesting to think about. We had no idea once we left home we were going to end up on the media.


In addition to the story being highlighted on ABC News, Newsweek, and the New York Post, among other local and national outlets, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office also enjoyed a fair amount of advertising about its involvement in the search.

The department of this Idaho sheriff, with authority over Hayden, kept the public up to date on the actions of the hunt. His final post, which was found announcing Katie, was liked more than 800 times and shared over 300 times. “I was not able to breathe!” A commentator said. “Thank goodness she was found!


Thinking about it is scary, but for Katie it might have finished quite differently. While police combed the neighbourhood for her, a statement was issued urging others to steer clear of the area. If listened to Chris and Ryle, who knows how things could have turned out.

Then, without stopping, Chris had driven over her scribbled “help” message. If he had, what could have happened? Or was Ryle convinced about its author by the theory of his stepfather? Was it all just a series of happy coincidences, or destiny?


Looking at a similar case can help to shed some light on the issue. Just about the same moment Katie was gone, there was almost a rather sad end to another hiker.

As she ran through heavy snowfall, Katharina Groene, a 34-year-old German hiker, was out on the Pacific Crest Trail. She was alone and dehydrated to eat one Pop-Tart a day. She took her phone out with 200 more miles left to go and sent a text to apologise to the people she felt she would never see again.


For more than 2,600 miles, the Pacific Crest Trail stretches from Southern California to the Canadian border. Groene met another hiker during her journey, a woman named Nancy Abell.

The two hiked and chatted for hours, with Abell trying to persuade Groene not to go north due to the harsh weather conditions predicted. Abell realized she had no snowshoes, and in the past, she was trapped in a bad storm. However, as she could try, Groene wouldn’t listen. She decided to continue, and she was stranded.


The German visitor remembered her daughter to Abell, so the encounter became trapped in her mind long after they had said goodbyes. Abell hit her breaking point five days later.

Believing Groene was ill-equipped to face the weather conditions of the area and was not going to make it to the next community on the trail, she appealed to local Search and Rescue to report her concerns. However, she went one step further and gave the authorities where she thought Groene could be based on her previous meeting.


Despite the fact that the weather conditions were still bad with moderate to heavy showers, Search and Rescue launched their helicopter after Abell’s call. Pilot Einar Espeland was suddenly noticing human tracks in the snow below going out on the surface.

Flying low, they checked that the footprints were actually human, and they saw that they were heading north. They finally found Groene while flying in that direction – tired but healthy. Landing the aircraft over the difficult terrain proved to be a struggle, but finally they prevailed and took her to health.


Groene said how thankful she was that Abell saved her life in the press conference although her escape. “I wondered who was going to call,” she said. “But who is looking for an alien?” Laughing, Abell responded, after Groene had “talked (her) ear off for two hours,” she was no longer a stranger.

The girls agreed that they would be lifelong friends, so until she is ready to go home, Groene would even stay with Abell. Was it the destiny of Groene on her trek to visit Abell? Would anyone else still have heard about her? You’re the director.

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