Some Thoughts on the Moab Ranger Shooting

Update: 15 January 2011
There hasn’t been much in the news about Ranger Young lately, but he is currently at home, recovering, and doing well it sounds like, after being shot 9 times. We are glad to hear that and wish him the best. Follow the RangerBrody link below to donate or to get to his Facebook  page to read more.

Update: 08 December 2010
A New York Times article addresses the bigger problems that some rangers face every day, now that so many of them have become law enforcement officers rather than a friendly face on the trail ready to discuss the flora and fauna. Meanwhile, Ranger Young’s condition has worsened (click the link below to read more about him.)

Update: 27 November 2010
The search area near Moab has been re-opened to the public and all law enforcement has pulled out. The manhunt has been scaled back to only ranger patrols through the area. There has been no new sign of the suspect for days, all this according to online news reports. Also, a website has been set up for Ranger Young where donations can be made towards his hospital bills- visit

25 November 2010 post:
It has been a while since I have had the time to sit down and write.  I apologise to those looking for more from us. The coming holiday season is keeping us quite busy these days at our retail store. Today I had hoped to focus on something like rock art, or desert plants, or summer plans on this Thanksgiving day, but the recent shooting of the ranger near Moab has my attention. Events like this leave me wondering about the state of our world, especially when they happen in a place like Moab where I don’t expect such things, and to a park ranger whose mission is to make sure visitors are safe in their adventures on the slickrock, rivers, and in the canyons.

I do not have any more information than can be found on the Salt Lake Tribune website, or anywhere else online. It is the policy of law enforcement agencies to give out just enough information to keep the public safe and help in their search for suspects. How they come up with what is “enough information” sometimes baffles me. In this case I am of the opinion that more information released to the public would be better for all of us, especially now that the search for the suspect is being scaled back and the public allowed back into the area. There is undoubtedly more information available to those in Moab.

For those unfamiliar with the event, a Utah state park ranger making a routine check on a vehicle at the Poison Spider Trailhead parking lot was critically wounded on Friday night, 19 November at about 8:40 pm. He was able to return fire, apparently a lot of fire, and then call for help. Ranger Brody Young is in a Grand Junction hospital and is stabilising, again according to news reports.

Why Did it Happen and Where Did the Suspect Go?
The motive for the crime, if it can be called that, seems clear enough- the suspect is a disturbed, angry, antisocial person who was described as “a cannon ready to go off”. It seems that Friday night was just when it finally happened.

As for my theory on the suspect’s whereabouts- this is the part of such an event that captures my interest- having only news reports to go on, and nothing first hand, everything I write is pure speculation. I am familiar with the area, having biked, hiked, driven, and floated through on many occasions. I am also familiar with the fact that people can disappear in canyon country fairly easily. The history of the area is replete with such stories. Many of those who “disappeared” were later found dead; case in point being the quick disappearance in 1998 of the trio that killed Cortez, Colorado police officer Dale Claxton.

According to news reports the present manhunt is being scaled back, the searchers having had no luck in finding signs of the suspect for a couple of days it would seem. Reports now state that the initial track followed may not have been that of the suspect. The suspect’s vehicle was found “a few miles” away from the location of the shooting. On the map that would be right around Bootlegger Canyon, a route out of the area. The rail line from the potash plant downriver runs right through the canyon. There was mention in news reports of searching the railroad tunnel there for the suspect.

There are many other possible routes out of the area, some well-known and well-traveled, others only known to canyoneers and explorers. Those well-known routes could be easily covered by law enforcement, for example traveling down Potash Road you can easily make it up through Long Canyon onto the mesa top, or continue to White Rim Road and on through Canyonlands National Park. Not so with the countless unmarked routes up and out of the area.

I found the possibility of floating out of the area mentioned only once, in relation to canoes at a ranch in the search area. I am sure the river was well-searched by air, if not by boat (I found no reference to this in reports). Floating out late Friday night, under the near-full moon, covering 10 or 15 river miles would give access to many more possible exits.

Limited Information Released
A recent report states that the suspect is in “pretty good” physical condition. This is an important part of the equation. Reports make little mention of equipment, another important consideration. A backpack with “some clothing and canned goods”, along with a .22 rifle, was found a couple of miles from the vehicle abandonment location. Knowing if the suspect likely had a daypack that was not found in his car, or that his sleeping bag was not found for example, would reveal a lot about the suspect, and his probable condition.

Again, I can only speculate on the suspect’s whereabouts. It cannot be ruled out that he made it far out of the area before searchers made it in on Saturday morning. A healthy, fit, prepared person with maps and knowledge of the area could cover 10, 15, even 20 miles in a day, less of course at night and under adverse weather conditions. But it must be remembered that this person was desperate, and desperation can press a human to do seemingly unattainable things. Conversely, history would caution us and state that there is likely a body to be found very near where officers are searching.

No matter how the suspect is found, dead or alive, I will likely feel a little different the next time I visit Moab, not quite so safe as I have always felt. I know this was an isolated event, and that we probably will not see anything like it again for many years to come. At least I can hope that.

10 Responses to Some Thoughts on the Moab Ranger Shooting

  1. Greg says:

    If your considering what a normal individual would do to escape the search, the canoe, railway lines etc. would be practical ways of escaping. However, if you are dealing with a person whose intent is to commit suicide, which is the way it looks like, he has a one-way ticket. With my experience, it doesn’t matter to an individual who is in this state of mind to find a way out, it doesn’t matter how far he goes even if he is lost, he has no intention on coming out. If he were injured, this would limit his ability to travel. My attitude during these types of cases was, if you haven’t found him, you just haven’t looked in the right area; all you have done was eliminate areas. I was a dog handler for years and the dog was invaluable in these situations, safety first.

    • Agreed on all points, I am guessing that he’ll be found next summer by some hikers, or by ATV’ers. If he “slipped through the lines”, which he had plenty of time to do before the lines were set up, his body could be lying under a juniper somewhere just up a side canyon. I do not think he was prepared physically to evade. And being injured, and realising what he had done, the way out for him would be to crawl into a hole and end it. I wish we had more information to fill in some of the holes though. Either way, just glad to hear the ranger is improving.

  2. I was in Grand County until the Wednesday prior to the shooting, in the Kane Creek Springs area (across the river from Poison Spider, but otherwise similar). I myself was mildly harassed the Friday evening before and witnessed another apparent incident of same on Saturday.

    I go into a bit more detail on my own blog.

    • Yes, I have to say such harassment does happen. It has happened to me also. I have to say that certain circumstances warrant more cautious behavior from law enforcement, such as on the next Friday night. But I am not sure why this would be the case on a “normal” Friday or Saturday night, unless there was someone else they were looking for at the time. I know there are certain areas around Moab where campers tend to be louder, where more trouble happens, and where certain types of campers tend to over-stay. These are the areas that police patrols focus on, which is sometimes a good thing. I’m sorry to hear you had to go through that. Unfortunately I am afraid that things around Moab may be a little more tense for a while to come.

  3. Frank says:

    On day three of our recent canoe/kayak river trip down the Green from Mineral Bottom to Spanish Bottom early AM a ranger boat pulled up to our campsite. One Ranger exited while the other watched carefully his approach to our camp. I walked over and greeted him and was surprised at the amount of armament he carried. Looked like Delta. Unmirrored dark sunglasses/Sidearm/Tazer/mace/Gerber fixed blade knife in quick release drop sheath across chest etc. During our discussion he asked to see our permit which I produced. He then asked about how we were handling human waste. He was not satisfied with my answer…doggy diaper placed into large freezer zip lock that had dry Tide soap in it, then placed into custom built air/water tight PVC Container. His concern was that we would not be able to place it in a land fill because they don’t accept human waste. He then provided me with a few “Enzyme bags” and wrote me a warning citation because I did not have my XXXX in order. I wanted desperately to discuss the 5 minute phone call I had with a park representative discussing in detail waste handling and the 100 million plus diaqpers that find their way into landfills each day without problems but decided better of it. He was calm and very professional during the whole encounter. Asked if we were doing OK and if the boats from the Friendship Cruise were respectful when passing us. the whole time the second Ranger never took his eyes off us. Pretty sure there was an AR platform type rifle on that boat even though I didn’t see it. He was one of three Ranger boats we saw during the 4 day trip.

    • Hey Frank, You know, I hate to say it, but it doesn’t surprise me. After all that has happened in our area in the last 10 years or so added to the number of people I see in the backcountry, in the canyons, and on rivers, it’s not surprising that they are so cautious. I’m seeing more and more people, and more and more damage by them. It is distubing though when you have forgotten about everything and are enjoying the river, just staring at the water passing by only to be returned to reality by a couple of SWAT team members in a ranger boat. I remember when they all wore those funny hats, carried pocket knives, and gave talks by the campfire. I guess they still do in some parks. I am sure that they are all more careful now after the recent events in Moab. I was there a couple of weeks back and camped out near Willow Springs. There were lots of people out there driving and wandering around at all hours, screaming and blaring music. It felt like a different place than it used to. Aside from that, I bet the float was a good, fast one. We are still trying to fit one in somewhere soon. If not, we at least have a slot on the San Juan again for August.

      • Frank says:

        The Rangers “Homeland Defense” appearance didn’t bother me. It’s good to know that there are good guys on our side out there able to deal with issues. The paddle was great. Close to 30K CFS on the Green with one day of bad afternoon wind. The one ranger stated we had sustained gusts of 50 mph and in places it felt like it with whitecaps coming over the front of the kayak. Lots of debris floating around, whole trees in fact were common. Considering it was Memorial Day weekend it was strange to see only one other paddle crew, and that being on the very last day about a mile above Spanish Bottom. We had the whole river pretty much to ourselves except for a few power boats participating in the Friendship cruise from Green River to Moab. Past the Confluence the Colorado was running at 65K CFS. Just got done reading “In search of the Old Ones”. Good read on the Anazasi. Gave me a new place to search out around Grand Gulch. Now reading J. W. Powells Journal.Had the past 1.5 weeks off. Will be hard to head to the office in the AM…very hard…thank God for coffee!

    • I’ve just returned from a Lake Powell rowing trip down to the Escalante Arm from Hall’s Crossing – starting just before that Memorial Day windstorm that had peak gusts of 65 mph on the Lake (during which time I was most certainly NOT on!).

      I had no issues with **Park Service** rangers at the Glen Canyon NRA, and actually chatted with one about the subject – I use a mixture of wag bags with enzymes and doggie bags. Doggie bags and diapers end up in landfills all the time, and the distinction goes beyond me, and is certainly relevant to a discussion about Federal ‘attitudes’ these days.

      The fact that they only gave you a warning is probably a good sign. I had a similar experience on a camping ‘warning’ near the Fisher Tower fork of Onion Springs. The problem there, also common in the Moab area generally, is the posting of ‘no camping beyond this point’ signs which do eventually end, however with no notice.

      Poison Spider Mesa is another of these areas – the shooter in last Fall’s incident wouldn’t have had to do much more than drive out of the parking lot to have been on legal, state trust, camping land.

      Another gripe on the general subject – I was hoping to take my dog on a white rim hike in Canyonlands – though dogs are allowed generally on roads in National Parks, not so here. The explanation I received in inquiry was nonsensical.

      Lastly, I am currently fighting a camping ticket I received in Durango, the weekend of the River Festival here. It does appear **possible** that there is some sort of bias against paddlers within some segments of the SW Forest Service. Why would be a big question.

  4. […] him being armed (see photo), and dangerous. Lets hope we don’t have a repeat of the recent Moab ranger shooting, or the mess we had in 1998. I will research the story further and post more info in my next blog. […]

  5. […] can read my original blog post and subsequent updates at the Desert Explorer Blog. For more on the 1998 Four Corners Manhunt or all of our desert adventures, visit the Desert […]

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