Anna Schmidt - Disturbing deaths in U.S. wilderness

Anna "Annie" Schmidt, Munra Point, Bonneville Dam, Oregon

Annie Schmidt Bonneville dam

Sometimes things just go wrong when venturing into the outdoors. Search and rescue teams try their best, but often need to give up within a few days, because of weather or resources. It can be up to amateur volunteers to help track down these missing people or bring the bodies home for grieving relatives. Like the story of the discovery in 2009 of the remains of the German Tourists in Death Valley by Tom Mahood after days of searching in the desert. They originally went missing in 1996.

Here is another amazing another story of a lady called Lydia McGranahan who wouldn't give up searching for a fellow hiker in Oregon despite the slim chances of success. The disappearance and death of Anna Schmidt came up on the radar after researching the story of Alissa McCrann who disappeared in the nearby Multnomah falls area in December 2015.

Anna Schmidt, known as Annie, went for a hike near the Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

The 21-year-old moved from  Salt Lake City in Utah to Portland in July 2016 and her father, Jon Schmidt, was a pianist and songwriter in the four-member music group, The Piano Guys, who after gaining a big following through YouTube, signed with Sony Music.

Annie, 5'4" and weighing 125 pounds, was described by friends and family as an avid hiker, a musically gifted young woman. 

She was last seen on Sunday, October 16th, 2016 by her room mate, Anne Snyder, and she sent a Snapchat message to her father that she planned to go for a hike at the Tooth Rock trailhead. Annie’s family noticed that she didn't post on social media at all on Monday which they found to be unusual as she usually posts daily, and grew increasingly worried the next day when she did not reply to any of their calls, texts or messages and had not been active on social media. Annie’s mother, Michelle, tried to text her with no response. On October 19th she flew into Portland to go on a pre-planned camping trip with Annie, but her daughter failed to pick her up at the airport as they had agreed. Michelle rented a car and went to Annie’s apartment where she found Annie’s roommate, who said she thought she had already left to go camping because she had not seen Annie since October 16th. At that point, they both realized something was badly wrong.

Annie was reported missing on Wednesday, October 19th, by her mother and her car was found on Thursday, October 20th,  off exit 40 on I-84 EB near the Bonneville Dam. The car had been broken into and ransacked, but her cellphone was found inside.  According to her mother, the phone, was old and the battery died quickly. Some sleeping bags were found in the vehicle but nothing else which gave a clue.

Annie’s roommate, Anne Snyder, spoke of the  the very last conversation she had with her "She didn't say anything. She wasn't like ‘I'm going hiking today.' She didn't say anything like that. She just said, ‘Do you want to hang out?' I said I couldn't,". Snyder also said that Annie did not have her gear or tent and that the tent she had ordered “had not shipped yet”. She said it was not unusual for her to go hiking alone, but she didn't bring any gear this time. "She didn't bring anything -- her tennis shoes are at home, her beanies, her backpack that she calls her adventure backpack -- she didn't take it. It's weird".

Annie Schmidt's last Twitter post

Annie Schmidt's last Twitter post

The search for Annie Schmidt

ToothRock Trail Head Oregon

Annie's last cellphone ping came from the Tooth Rock trailhead area, which is where searchers began with more than 150 volunteers on October 21st, 2016, five days after she was last seen. Tooth Rock is located between the more popular Eagle Creek trail to the east and Waclella Falls to the west. A maze of trails originate in the vicinity taking hikers to waterfalls, lakes and stunning vistas of the gorge. There are multiple routes just from the Tooth Rock parking lot and searchers had fanned out on all the different trails, unsure of which one Annie took.

On the second day of searching, nearly 200 volunteers and 50 search and rescue crews were deployed, followed by the use of a fixed-wing plane and drones. By October 23rd, search and rescue crews covered 150 miles of the Columbia Gorge trail system with the assistance of dog teams and that evening the search for Annie was suspended with no evidence found. Crews from the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office and Portland Mountain Rescue with ropes and other climbing equipment had searched the cliffs and waterfalls.

Annie's family continued the search on their own over the following few days. She was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints in Lake Oswego and the church has been leading the volunteer search efforts. "We just walked up the creeks. We're going chest deep. Wading, walking, looking to see if she's fallen in the creek, trapped under a rock or wedged behind a log,"

Police said they didn't suspect foul play but they were concerned she may have gotten lost or injured while hiking in the Gorge. 

Michelle and Jon Schmidt

Michelle and Jon Schmidt

Michelle Schmidt quickly said "I don't think she's still alive. I don't think she's survived. Honestly, that brings me comfort knowing she is with her Heavenly Father, that she's not hurting, that she's not suffering. But we do want to find her body.". What made Michelle so confident that Annie was dead on October 23rd is unclear, but the weather conditions around the time of her disappearance were poor with rain and high winds. In fact, very bad hiking weather which makes it strange that Annie decided to go walking that particular day. 

Annie Schmidt

Lydia McGranahan and the last search for Annie Schmidt

Lydia McGranahan, 40, lives in the small town of Keizer, Oregon, just north of Salem. Like so many others, McGranahan saw the news of a missing hiker.

On October 23rd,  Lydia joined the massive volunteer effort to search for Annie, saying, “It happens to be about an hour and a half from where I live. I’m an avid hiker and know the area quite well.”

When the rest of the group left that day “I didn’t want to go home, it wasn’t dark yet,” she said. “So I thought, ‘I’m going to stand where Annie’s car was, and try to think like her.’ ”

So Lydia just began hiking, all the while trying to imagine where Annie might have gone. “I started walking down one trail, and then onto another trail,” she said.

McGranahan ended at the unmaintained Munra Point, which describes as “an exposed basalt knob at the junction of three spiny ridges … (offering) a spectacular and exposed 360-degree view up and down the Columbia River Gorge.” The website says it is “safest in dry weather.” It had rained heavily the morning Annie had gone hiking.

When Lydia got to Munra Point, she says, “It seemed like the place Annie would want to go; I felt like we should search there.”That night, she had an intense dream. She felt herself falling, and as she fell, she saw Annie's face — as if she were somehow inside her. “I felt strongly, when I woke up from that, that Annie had fallen. And that she was at Munra Point.”

Munra Point Trail Columbia River gorge oregon

Lydia would spend seven full days searching for Annie and on October 26, she’d originally planned on going to McKenzie River to hike on her 40th birthday. “That’s what I set out to do, but then the night before, I found out the family was spending one more day searching for Annie and I thought, I can’t do my own thing, not as long as she is missing.”

That day, at the staging area, Lydia told the search team about her dream and shared a few other clues that led her to believe Annie was near Munra Point. But the group had already searched that area, and had made plans for searching elsewhere. She decided to go along with the group.

But midway through that search, one of the men in the group told Lydia “She’s not here." So he, Lydia and one other man decided to leave the others  and search at Munra Point. They looked at potential areas where Annie could have fallen.

Lydia said “After that, I felt such a strong pull, I’d come home, I couldn’t sleep. People were posting ‘It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,’ and I’m, like, ‘No it’s not.’ It’s not. I had this serious drive and intuition to find her.”

The Schmidt family brought in eight search and rescue dog teams, led by Eden resident Joe Jennings, president of Great Basin K9 Search & Rescue. The plan was to search several high-probability areas, but when Lydia was assigned to help in an area away from Munra Point, she asked to be moved “They’d asked me to go to a different place and I was, like, ‘No, I want to go to Munra.’ and she was teamed with Jennings and his 9 year old golden retriever, Gunny, to search the area below the point. “There was one large area I felt strongly about, knowing Annie liked to take shortcuts,” she said. “Joe was assigned that part, so I led him up there.”

The going was slow with steep, thick vegetation, a lot of bushwhacking, difficult terrain to walk on once you get off-trail.  Then at last,  “Joe’s dog popped up his head. I saw it immediately in Gunny, the attitude, nose up, whole body changed, faced uphill. I knew we were onto something.”

They worked their way up under the cliff, then Gunny seemed to lose the scent.“The wind was swirling; Joe said Gunny was trying to figure it out,” Eventually, unable to pinpoint the scent, the team needed to head back down to the trailhead. “Joe’s dog sat at the cliff edge, head up, barking,” McGranahan recalls. “Gunny was frustrated. He did not want to go, he knew Annie was close.”

Lydia led a second team up that afternoon, but again, they were unsuccessful. The next morning, McGranahan headed back to the same area with Wyoming-based Liz Hall and her dog, Reu.

Lydia McGranahan, Liz Hall, Reu the dog

Lydia McGranahan, Liz Hall, Reu the dog

Reu led Liz and Lydia to a place not far from where fellow dog Gunny had taken them. It was there they found the remains of a body and some belongings and clothing which belonged to Annie at around 11am. She was at the bottom of a very steep cliff around 300 feet high.

Joe Jennings said when they abandoned the search the day before the body was found, they’d assumed she’d landed on one of the many ledges and overhangs on the cliffs above. “If we’d just gone around the corner, we would have run into her,” he said.

 The following day, Annie’s father, Jon Schmidt, posted in the group Find Annie Schmidt to say a medical examiner had informed them they have positively identified the human remains found as being Annie. Officials believed Annie had accidentally slipped and fell from the cliffs above and died on impact.

“Fall was happening,” McGranahan said.“When Annie went missing, the leaves were still on the trees. By the time we found her, all the leaves were off the trees. The trails, the evidence on the ground, even some of Annie’s stuff, they were covered with leaves.” This highlights the need for trained search dogs like Gunny and Reu, according to Jennings. “A lot of the human searchers didn’t, or couldn’t, get off the trails, he said. “In that terrain, you could walk a few feet from her and never know she was there.”

Due to work of Lydia, Liz and Reu the mystery of Annie's whereabouts was solved. But why on earth was Annie hiking alone on Munra Point in mid-October with rain, dangerous cliffs and wind? Was it just coincidence that her car was ransacked and that she had left the cellphone behind (though it wasn't taken by the vandals)? Perhaps the battery on the phone had just given out on her. Its unclear whether she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or whether she had suicidal thoughts.