My introduction to Karlie Guse’s disappearance was not unlike most others. Facebook groups and various online discussions that labeled one mom as evil and the other as grief stricken, were running rampant with rumors and speculation. Signs of projection, assumptions, and misconceived notions were clear. It’s easy to follow the crowd, but a small amount of objectivity and research will naturally lead to more educated opinions. Unfortunately, in these online forums, there’s very little research being done and almost no objectivity to be seen. Illogical narratives were created and the crowd followed.
Triggering my departure from the crowd, I was contacted by Karlie’s biological mother, Lindsay Fairley, on November 2nd. Two days later, Bishop locals, Kammi Foote (president of her rotary club and elected Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters for Inyo County) and Earlene Beaver also made contact. Early conversations with Kammi focused on opening my social media group to promote participation for the searches that she agreed to organize at the request of a friend of the family. I have maintained regular contact with Kammi – at first on Facebook messenger, then with routine phone calls consisting of Kammi updating me on real local conditions, attributes, and facts about Bishop and surrounding areas. I contributed generalized briefings of examples, situational lessons, and observations from other cases that I deemed as educational. My goal was to help guide, support, and encourage her while she was navigating the role of community organizer.
While Mono, Inyo and Kern County all have world-class SAR teams, none of their team members can self-deploy. SAR agency contracts make it clear in the fine print that continuing to search after pro SAR has been officially called off or after allocated resources have been expended, is not permitted for their employees. Reasons for this can be due to budgets, liability, safety, and group readiness to maintain an on-call status.
There hadn’t been a credible sighting of Karlie following her October 13th disappearance, November searches hadn’t produced findings, and active members of SAR teams were no longer available to continue the search for Karlie. So the community of Bishop, relentless in their refusal to let Karlie be forgotten, began to seek out options and availability to keep the searches progressing. In an effort to improve objectivity and neutrality when it comes to future search locations, it is recommended that citizen volunteers be unaffiliated with the missing person’s family and community.
I chose to volunteer my time on Karlie’s case at the request of Kammi, who had been methodically and selflessly coordinating searches. Kammi had done her research and it showed. My personal budget allowed me to commit to five days, but I ended up staying an additional four days during that first trip. My life has revolved around Karlie’s case for ten months now, and the circumstances that have come about are nothing that I could have anticipated. I can’t say for certain that if I had known what the future would hold, I still would have taken on Karlie’s case. I care about missing people being found, and so I remain on her case out of loyalty and admiration for the amazing volunteers and experts that I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with along the way – for that, I am grateful.
Karlie’s case was not my first foray into search and rescue, but the manner of my participation was heavily influenced by, among others, a lesser known case on which I volunteered to assist with search and rescue efforts.
Alex Foust and Jeff Hurley were a young couple that disappeared while off-roading near the Dead Stream Swamp in Michigan on November 7th, 2017. Illustrated so clearly for me while working this case, was the void between searches occurring post-professional/law enforcement, and the obtainment of answers for their loved ones. To increase the chances of solvency on a case, it’s critical for volunteer searchers to have outdoor and wilderness navigation skills, gear and equipment, coordination and management skills, networking, and the desire and capability to put forth a large amount of general man hours. I had the knowledge and experience needed, the willingness to help, a plan, and train tickets. Several days before my scheduled departure, their bodies were recovered by state police and my trip was cancelled. It was that lesson, over the purchase of tickets, that convinced me to take a road trip to Bishop, California. With all of the uncertainty surrounding Karlie’s case, this afforded more flexibility.
My arrival in Bishop was later than originally scheduled. I was slowed down by a snow storm on the Continental Divide when leaving Colorado, and a blizzard with whiteout conditions in Beaver, Utah required that I pull over and sleep at a truck-stop until the weather cleared. As I neared my destination, an additional delay was due to a Google Maps glitch and an intermittent lack of cell service. Apparently the town of Darwin, which is near Death Valley, is on Google Maps as Bishop, California – I lost some hours to that unplanned detour.
In Search of Karlie
Upon finally arriving in Bishop, my first stop was to meet Kammi at Starbucks, and luckily I made it in time to quickly greet the drone operators, who were just leaving town.
A summary of events between November 11th – December is as follows:
On November 11th, the day after the first organized community search and initial mounted search had concluded, a public Facebook group was created with a focus on search details related to Karlie Guse. According to the group’s description, it was created for “actual search details (no psychic visions/dreams) and sightings of someone who might be Karlie (height/weight/nose piercing/smile/neck mark). Sightings need to have location details and pictures when possible. No opinions, speculation, criticisms or trash talking.”
It was in this group that search activities would ultimately be documented by the community, to maintain an accurate record of what had already been searched and by whom. A master map of search locations was created and shared in the group. Several locals began venturing out on their own and sharing photos and locations so that others would not duplicate efforts. Ultimately, we consulted with a professional Public Information Officer (another anonymous angel who has our gratitude), who advised us on proper form, protocol and development of a Hashtag to properly document search activities and relay that information to the public.
In order to understand Karlie’s case, it is important to understand all of the players. Two of the players who have remained largely behind the scenes, but have had a significant effect on the direction of the case, are Ingrid Tanner of the Berger-North Foundation (BNF) and Jon Lines, of Operation Underground Railroad (OUR). We have obtained correspondence that these individuals were in contact with locals, the Guses and Lindsay Fairley within weeks of Karlie’s disappearance. Tanner had reached out and offered to fund any and all search efforts for Karlie via grants awarded through BNF. According to Tanner’s verbal accounts, she granted her “entire winter budget” to commission Operation Underground Railroad to search for Karlie. This was substantiated when Jon Lines, of OUR, traveled to Bishop to meet with locals and become familiar with the case. These first meetings took place on November 27th. Although the dollar amount has yet to be confirmed officially, a review of IRS documents shows that between 2015 and 2017, the Berger-North Foundation had previously granted Operation Underground Railroad $275,000 for both specific and operational needs.
So, on November 26th, when a small group of FAA Part 017 UAV pilots found Karlie’s “search only” Facebook group and posted that they would be willing to travel to Bishop and help with searches, local community organizers reached out and facilitated funding for their accommodations and travel through OUR. A few days later, they were on their way to Bishop from Salt Lake City, Utah. The Drone Operators arrived on the afternoon of November 30th and met with Paul Dostie, The Guses, and local community members. With the input of OUR and their financier, Ingrid Tanner of BNF, maps and search locations were discussed and flight plans programmed based on forensic analysis of previous search efforts and highest likelihood of discovery.
Over the next two days, the two man Drone team deployed six drones that flew both in grid patterns and free-flight, taking photos every 1-3 seconds that were each encoded with GPS coordinates. The team took over 10,000 images in total. To help narrow down the number of images that needed to be physically scanned by human eye, the team used Loc8 software that automatically scans for color palettes that align with last known articles of clothing or other items that would help identify a missing person. Pictures of Karlie were obtained from friends and family as well as social media to be given as reference into Loc8 software, including the notable photograph of Karlie Guse sitting on a rock in the actual region of terrain where searches were taking place.
Anonymous angels spent the next several weeks painstakingly looking through over 5,000 images to identify anything that could potentially be a bone, clothing, or other items that might be related to Karlie. Each photo was scanned by site, tagged for “hits”, and small teams deployed with the GPS coordinates to locate the items in the images. Because the GPS coordinates were taken from above ground and often at an angle over steep terrain, it sometimes took several trips out to the locations to find the objects identified in the photos. As coordination efforts improved, the process streamlined into a small team being able to go out guided by GPS, with efficiency directly to an item of interest – almost to a bee line within 5ft of the item.
A small group of no more than five people had access to the images – the Drone Team operators, myself, and the main volunteers scanning the photos for identifiable items. Unfortunately, one of those group members breached confidentiality and jeopardized these monumental efforts by leaking images to random people on the internet who had no legitimate connection to the searches.
The Drone Team themselves were professional, on time, friendly, easy to work with, expedient, and focused on the task at hand. They have our sincere gratitude.
Although we were told the grant exceeded $100,000, as far as we are aware – the approximate $500 for reimbursement of actual expenses for the Drone Team were the only search efforts funded by OUR. This is in addition to the $10,000 grant written to Lori Wiley of Purple Reins for Healing Hearts. All other community searches were self-funded from local generosity. The Guses offered funds from their GoFundMe for search efforts but, given that the Guses had expenses that far exceeded donations received, volunteer searchers declined reimbursement of expenses – opting instead to give of their own time and resources to help search. Those expenses ended up exceeding thousands of dollars – paid out of pocket. At no time did any citizen search volunteer attempt to form a non-profit or profit off of their efforts to search for Karlie, nor was any volunteer operating illegally without a PI license. These are just a couple of examples of the many lies promulgated in troll groups for the purpose of attempting to smear volunteer’s reputations.
Kammi Foote has personally worked with almost 100 unique volunteer searchers. Paul Dostie, Dr. Arpad Vass, and myself are publicly the most well known. Many others wanted to and did help, but most of them have asked to be kept anonymous. The risk of being targeted, stalked, and harassed by unstable and irrational case chasers was too great. It appears that real searches inconvenienced and outed the scams being perpetrated by the aforementioned case chasers, as well as two questionable human trafficking groups. Unfortunately for them, Karlie was not fading into obscurity as some missing persons cases do. ACJ has previously published an article regarding the first group, Operation Found Safe, the second group, yet to be documented, is Operation Underground Railroad. We will be going into much greater detail regarding OUR and their involvement, or lack thereof, in future articles.
Searches performed by locals, with the leadership of Kammi Foote, were legitimate and followed proper guidelines, as were all searches of which I was personally involved. Volunteers, protected by Good Samaritan Laws, searched public lands, Bureau of Land Management, and Department of Water and Power. After law enforcement calls off their SAR, the task falls to the family and community to continue. Requests for volunteers were made in public and in private; everyone was welcome and encouraged to help. Although searches by small groups of Karlie’s friends and family continue to take place and are appreciated by all, I will only be covering the most thoroughly logged and documented searches in this series.
Letter of appreciation published November 29th:
We would like the thank the following businesses or individuals who have helped to pick up donations, put up flyers, spread the word, and helped support searches for Karle Guse: Alex Printing, Starbucks, Smart n Final, Laws Museum, Vons, Subway, Preferred Septic, Giggle Springs, Bishop Nursery, High Country Lumber, Manor Market, Schat’s Roadhouse, Tri-County Fairgrounds, Erin Livingston, Becky Russell, Shana Trim, Genette Clark, Kaylee McDermott, Darrah Aubrey, Marilyn and Bill Roush, Kimberly McCormick, Earlene Beaver, Sue Chudy, Lori Ann Wiley, the Big Pine Saddle club members, Wendy McGhie and many more. If I missed anyone, please know that we are all very thankful for your assistance. And of course, we want to especially thank all of the volunteers that showed up to search.Letter of Appreciation published in The Inyo Register, November 29, 2018
I think that it is also important to recognize that many, many people and organizations have been out searching for countless hours since the day Karlie went missing. We are all sending love and support to Karlie and her family and will never give up hope until she is brought home.
Kammi Foote & Lynne Roush