PORTLAND – A man and his 12-year-old daughter have spent the past four years living in a remote hillside in Portland’s Forest Park, police said.
The pair was discovered in a dense, wooded area by an Australian cross-country runner and his wife.
They reported seeing an older man with white bushy hair and a beard, and a young girl, at what appeared to be a “well-established transient camp.” They called police on April 28.
That afternoon, North Precinct Sgt. Michael Barkley sent four officers on all-terrain vehicles to find the pair but they didn’t find them.
“We had very little to go on,” Barkley said. “There’s no way you could not do everything you could because it was a report of a child living up there.”
The next morning, the runner escorted police to the site. After an hour-and-a-half hike, police found an elaborate camp dug into a steep hillside.
Under a tarp-covered, wood-framed shelter, they found sleeping bags, a partially burnt log, a Bible, a stack of old World Book Encyclopedias, rakes and other tools. A rope swing, a tilled vegetable garden and a small creek were nearby.
A police dog found the pair huddling behind a tree about 50 yards from the camp.
The man and girl told police they had lived in the park for four years. The pair appeared clean, well-fed and healthy, Barkley said, and the girl was well-spoken beyond her years.
The man, who identified himself as Frank, told police he was a 53-year-old Marine Corps veteran and college graduate who served in Vietnam.
He came to Oregon with his daughter, Ruth, from Tacoma with no job and virtually no money. Frank told police that the girl’s mother was institutionalized in New Hampshire, and the two now lived on a $400-a-month disability check.
Rather than live on the streets and expose Ruth to alcohol and drugs, Frank said, they hiked deep into Forest Park and built a lean-to.
The pair went into the city twice a week to stop by the bank, attend church, buy groceries and purchase clothes from Goodwill. Frank, a devout Christian, said he taught his daughter by using the old encyclopedias.
They grew vegetables and used the nearby creek to keep clean. They stored perishable foods in a small pool of water at the creek’s edge.
The man and girl told police that the runner was the first person to find their camp in four years.
Their biggest worry was being split up, Barkley said.
“Please, don’t take me from my daddy,” the girl told the 26-year police veteran as they sat on a log talking for at least 30 minutes.
Barkley, who has a 6-year-old daughter, said he was struck by the relationship between father and daughter.
“What was so clear was that their living conditions were unacceptable, but their relationship was a real deep love and caring for each other,” Barkley said.
Officer Joe Campbell, who helped find the pair, said separating the pair would have broken their hearts. “Their whole lives seemed to revolve around each other,” said Campbell.