GRANGEVILLE – It appears there are no immediate plans to continue the search for a 76-year-old Nezperce woman who disappeared three weeks ago in the upper Selway area, even after her dog turned up alive and well this week.
Nicole Saylor, daughter of Connie Johnson, said Friday the private searcher who had been hired to look for Johnson when her border collie, Ace, turned up at the Moose Creek Ranger Station did take the dog back out to look for Johnson the following day.
Ace was spotted by a backcountry pilot Tuesday at the ranger station, about 15 miles from the hunting camp where Johnson was last seen.
Saylor said the dog was “very skinny but in good shape, otherwise.”
Ace was examined, fed and then taken back out, but the search “did not yield any leads,” Saylor said. She said when she heard the news that Ace had been found she was “thrilled that he was alive. The fact that he was not with mom was very sad.”
Saylor, who lives in Washington, D.C., and her sister, Christy Saylor of Creston, Iowa, flew out to Idaho immediately when they heard the news their mother was missing.
Johnson, an experienced outdoorswoman who knows the area around Fog Mountain near Big Rock about 15 miles from the Moose Creek Ranger Station airstrip, was working as a camp cook for Richie Outfitters of Salmon, Idaho. She previously had worked as a U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger at the Moose Creek Ranger Station, she was a member of the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation, and she frequently led young people and other groups on tours of the backcountry.
She was last seen Oct. 2, when the hunters left the camp for a while. The remote area is accessible only by horseback or on foot.
On Oct. 3 the hunters reportedly had radio contact with Johnson, Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings said, but they were unable to understand what she was saying.
When they returned to the camp Oct. 5, Johnson and Ace were gone.
An intensive search was launched, involving aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, the Idaho National Guard, the Clearwater County Backcountry Helicopter Rescue team, along with several teams of tracking dogs and searchers on foot.
No trace of Johnson or her dog was found, and the search virtually ended Oct. 16.
Giddings said Friday his office does not have plans to resume the search for Johnson, although if a private search does turn up some evidence, deputies would return to the area.
In an oral history Johnson recorded for the Selway-Bitterroot Foundation a few years ago, she had this to say about her experience in the backcountry after relocating from Iowa years before:
“I don’t remember really being afraid of anything. I’m a spiritual and faithful person and I kind of gave over my life to, you know, there’s God taking care of me and I know that but I did learn to, and I don’t remember being fearful. There were lightening storms and there were creek crossings and there were lots of challenging things physically, but I’m naturally an impatient person and this taught me, since I was by myself, to be very careful about where you put your feet. You know, Connie, if you get hurt here there’s no way anybody’s going to help you; you’re on your own. So it taught me to plan ahead about how I would negotiate this or that or how I would deal with the water supply or bee stings and that kind of thing. I just love being in that place so much. It just took care of me, you know. It’s a pretty overpowering feeling to look up into those hills and especially being a flatlander like I was. I still am in awe of the power of those mountains and the power of the weather and the creeks and just the sheer hugeness of it and the fact that we’re not in control of anything.”
Saylor said she can only speculate about what happened to her mother, but she does not believe her disappearance was intentional.
“I think that she was enjoying the outdoors, which she loves, and something happened,” Saylor said. “The weather came up; she fell. I don’t know, but I think that she got surprised.”
Saylor said she thinks it is “highly unlikely” that her mother will be found alive.
“Given the temperature, given the lack of time, given the lack of signs of her and the fact that Ace is not with her, all points to.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter