Over this past weekend, record-breaking heat across the state claimed the lives of at least four hikers. On Sunday, temperatures reached 118 degrees, melting Phoenix's previous record for the date (115 degrees, set in 1968), and making Sunday the fifth-hottest day on record at Sky Harbor Airport.
On Saturday, a 25-year-old man died hiking on the Peralta Trail near Gold Canyon. And on Sunday morning, a 28-year-old personal trainer perished on a hike at the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Just outside of Tucson, a third hiker died near Finger Rock Canyon and a fourth in Ventana Canyon.
Across the nation, more individuals die from heat-related illness than all other natural disasters combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC found that from 1999 to 2009, Arizona, California, and Texas accounted for approximately 40 percent of all heat-related deaths in the United States. CDC data indicates that heat deaths in Arizona far outpace those in Texas and California on a per-capita basis.
In Arizona alone — where summer temperatures regularly soar upward of 110 degrees — more than 1,500 people died of heat exposure between 2000 and 2012, according to a report from the Arizona Department of Health Services. About 95 percent of the deaths occurred between May and September.
There are a myriad of ways heat exposure can lead to death. These are 10 true stories of people who fell victim to Phoenix's fiery serial killer: the sun.
1. Hiking in the Heat
On July 9, 2015, a man and his grandson were found dead in the desert near the small town of Gila Bend. Thomas Gillespie, 63, and his 12-year-old grandson Robby Miller had been hiking and taking pictures on the Mormon Battalion Trail outside Gila Bend, just off Interstate 8 on Arizona State Route 85.
When the two didn't return home, Miller's mom called police. The next day, sheriff's deputies discovered Gillespie's car on State Route 238. The bodies of Gillespie and Miller were soon located on the trail.
Investigators believe the pair walked about five or six miles before turning back toward the trailhead. Gillespie collapsed within a half-mile of the turnaround point. Miller, who had his grandfather's keys with him, was found more than a mile from the trailhead where Gillespie had died.
Investigators said they believe Gillespie, a Tucson native, succumbed to the elements and Miller died while seeking help.
No food, water, or cell phone was discovered near either of the bodies.
2. Hiking Camelback Mountain in the Heat
In late May 2014, 23-year-old Seattle tourist Eric Fernandes purchased a hydration backpack and a couple of small bottles of Vitamin Water before setting out to hike Camelback Mountain's rugged Echo Canyon Trail.
After hours of hiking in temperatures soaring upward of 108 degrees that afternoon, Fernandes reached Camelback's 2,704-foot peak. At the top, another hiker noticed that Fernandes looked tired and very sweaty. It was the last time anyone would see him alive.
Three days later, hikers found his body wedged between two large rocks in a crevice about 500 feet below the summit on the mountain's southwestern face.
The medical examiner determined that Fernandes "likely developed an elevated core temperature that led to unconsciousness and ultimately death."
Police discovered that the Seattle resident was not fully prepared for the hike. While Fernandes had purchased a hydration pack, he didn’t fill it with water or use it during the hike. Detectives believe he took the two bottles of Vitamin Water he had purchased, but no bottles were found near the body.
Fernandes was not the first hiker to underestimate the rugged terrain of Camelback Mountain — Phoenix's highest point above the city. Both hiking trails used to ascend to the mountaintop — the Echo Canyon Trail and the Cholla Trail — are considered strenuous, owing to their steep grades.
Camelback Mountain's scenic beauty conceals a deadly past. In the past few years, there have been at least six deaths on the mountain, and many other hikers have had to be rescued. Most accidents on the mountain occur from heat exhaustion or dehydration.
On July 7, 2015, a British mother was overcome by the intense summer heat after reaching the summit. Ravinder Takhar, 48, was on vacation with her husband and children when she fell into a ravine and died.
Earlier this month, on June 14, the body of 56-year-old Stephen Vanderhoeven, also British, was found on Camelback Mountain near the Cholla Trail. Vanderhoeven is thought to have been hunting for chuckwallas.
3. Stranded in the Desert
Following a car crash, Mai Vo Bor, 37, walked for hours through the blistering Arizona desert seeking help for her injured parents.
It was June 18, 2012, and Bor was on vacation with her family from California when they got into a single-vehicle crash half a mile south of Interstate 10 and 411th Avenue in Tonopah.
At 6 o'clock that morning, Bor left the wreckage to find help. Two hours later, the broken-down vehicle and her elderly Vietnamese parents — who did not speak English — were spotted by a passerby who called for help.
It wasn't until the parents were taken to West Valley Hospital in Goodyear, nearly 40 miles away, that an interpreter understood their story. That's when the county sheriff learned about the couple's missing daughter.
By the time deputies discovered Bor, she had succumbed to the elements. Her naked body was found about a mile from the crash. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office believed she had been out in the sun for more than eight hours.
4. Trapped in a Car
On July 13, 2010, while his mother was studying for a test, 3-year-old Jaden Pennington snuck outside and crawled into the front seat of the family's Chevrolet Cobalt.
About 30 minutes later, April Carpenter, 25, frantically searched the house and discovered her son unconscious in the car. The boy was pronounced dead at a hospital, with a recorded core temperature of 108 degrees.
Tragically, Pennington was just one of 49 children to die of exposure in a hot car that year.
Vehicular heatstroke is the number-one cause of death in non-collision fatalities for children 14 and younger, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Since 1998, 668 children have died nationwide as a result of adults leaving them in a vehicle. In the majority of cases, the caregiver forgot to remove the child from the car.
According to data compiled by the nonprofit KidsandCars.org, Arizona ranks among the top five states for these fatalities.
5. Locked in an Outdoor Prison Cell
Marcia Powell, 48, died in Goodyear's Perryville Prison on May 20, 2009, after being locked in a cage in the blazing Arizona sun.
Despite prison policy limiting outside confinement to two hours, Powell was kept locked up for at least four hours. While roasting in the heat, she repeatedly asked corrections officers for water, to be taken back inside, or to be allowed to use the restroom but her pleas were ignored, according to a report from the Arizona Department of Corrections.
As temperatures soared upward of 107 degrees, Powell, who was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution, collapsed. She was found unconscious and covered with excrement from soiling herself.
Powell was transported to West Valley Hospital, where she died. The medical examiner found the cause of death to be complications from heat exposure. Powell's core temperature was 108 degrees and she had burns and blisters all over her body.
The department of corrections recommended that the seven corrections officers on duty that day be charged with negligent homicide in connection with Powell's death. But the county prosecutor found there was not enough evidence to prosecute them and did not to pursue criminal charges. Sixteen prison employees were sanctioned or fired as a result of Powell's death.
The outdoor cages are still used at the prison but are now equipped to provide shade, misters, water fountains, and benches.
A film about Powell, No Human Involved, recently had its premiere.