Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who booted the Superstition Search and Rescue team to start his own search crew, has faced criticism over how his office has conducted searches.
But now, the wife of one missing hiker who was found in 2009 by the all-volunteer-no-charge-to-the-county Superstition Search and Rescue (SSAR), is coming out in defense of ... Babeu.
SSAR worked alongside the Pinal County Sheriff's Office for more than two decades, but when Babeu took office in 2009, he snubbed the all-volunteer team to start his own.
Lori Tate fired off her thoughts in a letter to the editor of the Apache Junction-Gold Canyon News defending PCSO. It came a few weeks after the newspaper published an editorial critical of the PCSO for its failure to find Chris Hensley, another missing hiker who was also found dead in April by Superstition Search and Rescue. In the same edition, Hensley's wife, Tonya, also wrote a guest column questioning the PCSO for how it handled the search.
Tate writes that she felt "compelled to respond to both of these, both in defense of PCSO and to set a few facts straight."
She writes: "I am so sorry that Mrs. Hensley had (what she considers to be) a poor experience during her husband's search... I'm sorry her husband wasn't found sooner and I'm sorry I didn't follow my instincts and call PCSO to get her phone number so I could give her some aid with her bitterness and anger during this very difficult time."
Kelly Tate was reported missing after he went for a hike in the Superstition Mountains in September 2009. A PCSO-led search by air, on horseback, on foot went on for days. The hiker was later found dead just 150 yards away from where the Pinal County Sheriff's Office had set up their command post.
Member of the Superstition Search and Rescue located his body after PCSO combed the desert and then scaled back its search. When he was discovered, even PCSO officials acknowledged that they didn't mean to "do a half-assed search" and said they were "disappointed because they didn't search that area more."
In her letter, Lori Tate recalls how "deputies from PCSO came to my house that night" to ask questions to narrow down the search area, they detailed for her each step of the search and made her feel "their mission [was] to return my husband to our family, hopefully alive."
They answered questions for her "inside the command trailer," protected her from the media and made frequent visits to her home to keep her updated, she writes.
Tate praises them for just about everything except the actual search.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
She writes that they were "well-organized, with everyone in constant communication with each other, everyone understanding their jobs, and everyone doing their best to find my husband."
Tate recalls they were patient and understanding, and defends them because although her late husband was only 150 yards away from the command post, he was in a desert wash.
Her full letter to the editor below:
A friend handed me Tonya Hensley's guest commentary and your editorial column from the May 6-12 edition of your paper concerning PCSO's performance during the recent search for her husband. I feel compelled to respond to both of these, both in defense of PCSO and to set a few facts straight.
My name is Lori Tate. On Thursday, September 10, 2009, my husband Kelly left our home in East Mesa to climb the Flatiron in Lost Dutchman Park. When he had not returned home by 5:30 that evening and didn't answer his phone, I called a teaching colleague whose husband and daughter were both associated with search and rescue. They, in turn, notified PCSO that my husband was missing, scrambled a team and began to search. Two deputies from PCSO came to my house that night to ask questions about my husband in an effort to clarify the parameters of their search, They were considerate of my feelings and patient as I tried to sort out answers. They outlined what would be happening each step of the way until my husband was found. One of the deputies told me that he had been doing search and rescue for 15 years and had found everyone he had searched for. When I asked him if they were all alive, he said, "No, but we returned them to their families." And all through the five days of searching for my husband, through numerous interactions with PCSO, I had the feeling that was their mission, to return my husband to our family, hopefully alive.
My daughters and I spent time out at Lost Dutchman with PCSO, SSAR, Sonoran Search and Rescue and two other smaller search and rescue teams who were assisting the search. We saw the dogs and the horses as they went out to search for Kelly and came back in after their shifts. I was taken up in a helicopter so that I could get an idea of the size of the area they were searching. My feeling was that the search and rescue teams were doing the field work (because they had much more manpower than PCSO did, approximately 125 searchers) under the direction of, and in tandem with, PCSO. If there was ever any tension or friction between the search teams and PCSO, I never saw or sensed it. Everything was well-organized, with everyone in constant communication with each other, everyone understanding their jobs, and everyone doing their best to find my husband. The deputies were, once again, considerate and patient, answering our questions inside the command trailer. Knowing we did not wish to talk to the media, they even rushed us into the trailer at one point and shut the door to protect us from reporters who were on site. The entire time, the only things they asked of me were that I answer their questions honestly, that I give them personal items of my husband's so the dogs could get a scent, that I release a picture of Kelly to the media (which ultimately helped find him) and that I keep my friends and relatives, who were well-meaning but ill-equipped to handle the rough terrain of the Superstitions, out of the search.
In addition to the first visit the PCSO deputies made to our house, they returned three more times; once four days into the search when they were honest with me about my husband's chances of being found alive, again when his body was found (on Tuesday, September 15) and finally to return his personal effects after the autopsy in Tucson. When they came to our house to notify us that he had been found and discovered that we already knew because Fox 10 had broken the story, they were genuinely distressed. And, when my husband's body was taken to Tucson for autopsy, they requested that the medical examiner push him to the top of the list, knowing that we had been waiting five long days for answers.
As Mr. Barker pointed out in his editorial, my husband was found only 150 yards from the parking lot. However, he was found in the bottom of a wash, not on a trail as Mr. Barker stated. And, PCSO did not call off the search. After five days of round the clock searching, they had scaled back. SAR did not, as Mr. Barker stated, arrive on the scene at that point, they were there all along. Fortunately, someone who had seen my husband coming down off the Flatiron on September 10th called PCSO that day (Tuesday the 15th) and gave details that ultimately led to the discovery of his body, although, if the search had been called off and Lost Dutchman had been re-opened, my husband's body surely would have been found, most likely by an unfortunate hiker.
The night my husband's body was found, PCSO sent a victim advocate to our house to offer what aid and comfort he could. He gave us the names of various organizations and resources within the community that might be helpful to us at some time during our grief process.
Finally, about a week after my husband was found, I received a phone call from one of the deputies just to check up on us and see how we were doing. It was a lovely gesture. Maybe they follow up with everyone or maybe it was something he did because over the course of the five-day search, we had been in constant communication with PCSO and I had come to think of them as "my" deputies.
I am so sorry that Mrs. Hensley had (what she considers to be) a poor experience during her husband's search. I'm sorry her husband wasn't found sooner and I'm sorry I didn't follow my instincts and call PCSO to get her phone number so I could give her some aid with her bitterness and anger during this very difficult time.
And Mr. Barker, while I can't comment on any problems between SAR and PCSO/Sheriff Babeau, I can make the comment that, to this reader, it seems like your paper has an agenda and it's definitely not to promote the efforts of PCSO.
I dare you to print my letter, in its entirety, in your publication.
Lori Tate, Mesa