DENVER (AP) — The stepsister of a Colorado woman who was found dead along with her sister and teenage son at a remote Rocky Mountain campsite says the women fled into the wilderness after struggling to cope with societal changes in recent years, but they were unequipped to survive off the grid.
Exposed to several feet of snow, chills below zero and with no food found at their camp, Christine Vance, Rebecca Vance and Rebecca’s son likely died of malnutrition and hypothermia, according to the autopsies released this week. Authorities haven’t released the boy’s name.
Those reports contained another chilling detail that brought stepsister Trevala Jara to tears: The 14-year-old boy’s body was found with Jara’s favorite, blessed rosary that she gave the group before they left.
“God was with them,” said Jara, who still hasn’t mustered the strength to remove the rosary from the hazard bag. But Jara, who tried to convince them not to go, has questions.
“Why would you want to do this knowing that you would leave me behind?” she said through tears. “Why didn’t you listen to me and my husband?”
The camp and the teen’s body were first discovered by a hiker wandering off trail in July. The Gunnison County Sheriff’s Office found the two women’s bodies the following day, when they searched the campsite and unzipped the tent. All three had been dead for some time. Strewn across the ground were empty food containers and survival books. Nearby, a lean-to extended near a firepit.
The sisters from Colorado Springs, about an hour south of Denver, had been planning to live off the grid since the fall of 2021, Jara said. They felt that the pandemic and politics brought out the worst in humanity.
They weren’t conspiracy theorists, said Jara, but Rebecca Vance “thought that with everything changing and all, that this world is going to end. … (They) wanted to be away from people and the influences of what people can do to each other.”
Jara remembers Rebecca Vance as a bit reserved, sharp as a whip, and someone who could read through a 1,000-page book in days. Vance’s son was homeschooled and a math whiz, Jara said.
Christine Vance was more outgoing, charismatic and wasn’t at first convinced on the idea to escape society, Jara said, “but she just changed her mind because she didn’t want our sister and nephew to be by themselves.”
Rebecca and Christine Vance told others they were travelling to another state for a family emergency. They told Jara of their plans, but not where they would set up camp. They watched YouTube videos to prepare for their life in the wilderness, but they were woefully underprepared, Jara said.
Jara said she tried everything short of kidnapping to keep them from leaving, but nothing worked. Now, Jara wants to warn others about the risks of surviving in the wilderness.
“I do not wish this on anybody at all,” Jara said. “I can’t wait to get to the point where I’m happy and all I can think of is the memories.”
Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.