A disturbing incident in New Mexico highlights the fact that, when you're in trouble, you can't always count on "the authorities" coming to your rescue. As much as we hope the authorities are on the ball, sometimes they fail big-time. This was one of those times.
Sometime between February 10th and 12th, a 41-year-old woman named Margaret Page, who has a history of mental illness, left her vehicle at a trailhead and hiked into the rugged mountains of New Mexico, carrying a sleeping bag, a bag of pretzels, and her cat. It's a puzzle what she was thinking. With sleeping bag in hand, it's apparent she was intending to stay overnight. But with nothing more to eat than a bag of pretzels…well, that is part of the puzzle.
Family members reported her missing on February 14th, but no action was taken by authorities for more than 3 weeks. Apparently, they sat on their hands. Or they dropped the ball. Or they let it fall through the cracks. Whatever excuse they want to use, it is inexcusable, and a woman could have lost her life because of official fumbling. Our tax dollars at work!
A forest service officer spotted Page's vehicle on February 12th, but didn't pay much attention to it because people routinely leave their vehicles at a trailhead while they go for a hike or short camping trip.
Another forest service officer noticed the vehicle on February 25th, but again took no action and didn't even let anyone else know about it until 10 days later. (What — don't forest service employees talk to each other?)
Ten days later, when the vehicle was finally reported to be still in the same place, members of the Grant County Search and Rescue began the search.
Margaret Page was found the following day. She was malnourished (had lost 25 pounds). She had water to drink from a nearby stream, but there was no food source available to her. Her cat was with her, and had evidently been hunting to keep itself alive.
Sometime during the run-up to her rescue, someone ordered her car towed. That was a surprise to Robert Matulich, a member of the Dona Ana County Search and Rescue team, because crews sometimes obtain clues from vehicle to give search dogs a scent to follow. "It looks to me like somebody dropped the ball on this one," Matulich said. "Why'd they dow the truck? Who towed the truck?"
Failure to communicate. Failure to follow up. Failure to do their job.
Am I being too harsh, expecting forest service employees to use common sense? What are they doing, just walking around counting pine cones? For crying out loud, get your head out where the sun shines, or go find a job where people's lives don't depend on your competence!
Obviously, the lesson for us is that we cannot trust our lives to someone else. Maybe the family members who originally reported Margaret Page missing should have done some follow-up on their own — not leaving it to the authorities to take action.
If you call to report a missing loved-one, and the authorities don't, within a reasonable time, start the ball rolling toward a search effort and keep in touch with you about their progress, it's time to initiate a search on your own.
This incident has left me even more doubtful about the competence of our tax-paid government employees than I was before.