I know that a lot of you don’t think search and rescue is very important, but in the Sangre de Christo Mountains of the Southern Rockies in Northern New Mexico, SAR is very important.
The picture is taken in Bluff, Utah, during the biggest manhunt in the Southwest in decades. I am in the uniform of a New Mexico State Police Type 1 Incident Commander. My unit was an amazing communications platform, completely equipped to keep me alive for 36 hours above timberline during any season of the year.
Three militiamen from Cortez, Colorado, were wearing black masks and driving a stolen water truck when Cortez police Officer Dale Claxton on May 29, 1998, spotted them along U.S. 160. He was still in his police car when the terrorists fired 29 shots at him with a fully-automatic machine gun, killing him instantly. Claxton, 45, a father of four, had been a police officer for three years.
The men led officers on a chase across southwest Colorado, commandeering another truck and firing perhaps 400 rounds. They then fled on foot into the remote canyon-lands north of Hovenweep National Monument, just over the Colorado-Utah border.
Some 500 armed searchers from more than 60 law enforcement agencies, federal police, search and rescue personnel, and National Guard troops from Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado looked for them for weeks afterward.
The first one’s body was found near Bluff, Utah, about a week after Claxton was killed. Authorities say he killed himself shortly after he shot and wounded a San Juan County sheriff's deputy. I don’t believe that. I believe that he was going to turn himself in, and his two partners killed him to keep him quiet.
The remains of the second one were found in 1999, about 2 1/2 miles from where the men ditched their vehicle. Police say that he was the group's ringleader and that he also shot himself.
A cowboy found human remains in a Utah canyon in 2007, along with parts of a bulletproof vest and a camouflage backpack containing pipe bombs. Everyone believes it was the third criminal.
I was asked by my agency, the New Mexico State Police, to go to the scene to assist in wilderness search techniques. I spent three days chasing the terrorists around. When I left, one was dead and the other two were still at large. The FBI amassed 300 Special Agents within 24 hours in Bluff, and they told all non-FBI to leave, that it was now “a FBI matter” and “thanks for your help.” Typical.