One of Montana’s most celebrated crime victims has come home.
Kari Swenson, abducted more than a decade ago by two self-styled “mountain men,” said she missed Montana. She didn’t miss questions about the crime, and she still doesn’t encourage them.
“I want to put the past behind me,” Swenson, 34, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “I don’t want to have everybody so focused on the mountain man incident.”
Swenson, now a veterinarian, is working part-time for the Montana Veterinary Hospital west of Bozeman and for Colmey Veterinary Hospital in Livingston. The part-time employment gives her time to write. She’s working on three children’s books on animals.
Swenson, an Olympic-level biathlon competitor in the early 1980s, became famous when she was kidnapped by self-styled “mountain men” Dan and Don Nichols while she was on a training run on July 15, 1983. Don Nichols later testified they kidnapped Swenson in hopes she would become the “mountain bride” of his son, Dan.
During a rescue attempt the following day, she was shot in the right lung by Dan Nichols. Rescuer Alan Goldstein was shot and killed by Don Nichols. Both evaded capture for some five months before being captured and prosecuted; the case helped launch the career of the prosecutor, now Montana Gov. Marc Racicot.
Don Nichols is now in the Montana State Prison serving an 85-year term; Dan Nichols was paroled in 1991 and went to college, expressing remorse for his role in the kidnapping.
Swenson was running alone, training for biathlon contests, when she was kidnapped. She doesn’t run alone anymore.
Now she’s accompanied by Max, a 120-pound Rottweiler. She adopted Max after he fell out of the back of a rancher’s pickup and broke a bone in his leg. When the rancher said he didn’t want to pay for a vet bill, Swenson set the bone and adopted the animal.
Swenson left Bozeman in 1986 to attend veterinary school at Colorado State University. After graduation, she began practicing in Steamboat Springs, Colo., specializing in small animals. She returned to Bozeman in May.
“I missed the feeling of home, the wide-open spaces, the mountains,” she said. “Colorado has mountains, but they’re not the same. Colorado has way too many people.”
She said she also wanted to be closer to her family. Her father is a vice president at Montana State University; her mother is a nurse for student health services at MSU.
Swenson has refused to discuss publicly her recovery from the tragedy.
She said she continues to focus on life after the murder and kidnapping, but the pain in her chest from the wound is a daily reminder.
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