Ryle Gordon and his stepfather, Chris Trumbich, had made for their family’s cabin in Hayden, Idaho, but it wouldn’t be one of their routine hunting trips in the countryside. Instead, they were greeted with the word “help” scratched into the dirt near their property. They thought little of it at first, but then they reflected that it might be a genuine request – and their second instinct was the right one.
The settlement of Hayden, Idaho, has a population of a little over 13,000, according to the most recent census. But the area’s stunning natural landscape beckons people like Chris Trumbich and his 15-year-old stepson, Ryle Gordon, to come and explore.
For Trumbich and Gordon, the trek to Hayden meant they were going hunting and staying at their hut in the wilderness. And they did that often, the teenager told TV station KHQ. “Pretty much born and raised at that cabin,” Gordon said.
And, although the cabin had often featured in their leisure time, neither Gordon nor his stepfather had any clue what drama awaited them on their November 2018 trip to Hayden. As soon as they approached their destination, though, they immediately realized something was amiss.
They saw a search party, which had been scouring the vicinity in search of a missing teenager. Nineteen-year-old Kathryn ‘Katie’ Ogle had disappeared in the area. She was thought to be especially vulnerable because she had the cognitive ability of a 10- to 12-year-old, according to KHQ.
The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office had previously implored the area’s residents to look through their home security footage to try and catch a glimpse of the missing blonde-haired, green-eyed teen. Authorities also requested that they search any outdoor structures, like barns or sheds, to see if there was any trace of Ogle.
Meanwhile, the emergency workers and volunteers continued their hunt both on the ground and in the skies. They had 60 search-and-rescuers and dog units sweeping the local area, while aircraft flew overhead.
Before driving up to Hayden, Trumbich had already heard Ogle’s story. “We found out before we left that there was a missing girl up there,” he told KHQ. And his stepson felt the pair of hunters could be of genuine assistance in the search.
“I told Chris, we’d probably be their best help because we know this place like the back of our hand,” Gordon said. So the pair decided to drive onward to their cabin, which sat four miles away on a single-track road.
As the hunters made their way along the narrow dirt road towards their property, they saw something unexpected. On the ground, they noticed that someone had scrawled a note in the mud. It read simply, “Help.”
Trumbich recalled, “It says, ‘Help.’ And [Gordon’s] like, ‘That’s kind of creepy.’” At first, the teen’s stepfather had a simple explanation for the message. “I thought maybe it was a hunter, down here shot a deer or something,” Trumbich told KHQ. The author might’ve needed help carrying the carcasses, he surmised.
But 15-year-old Gordon had another theory – that the message had been left by the missing girl, Ogle. “It kind of hit me, I was like, ‘There’s no way. There’s just no way.’ It just kind of shocked me,” he recounted. So, he snapped a picture of the message.
Then, Gordon and Trumbich went back to the search party that they had passed on their way to the cabin. They showed them the message, and Gordon said the image came as a surprise to them. “They were getting ready to go, go home for the night,” he recalled.
But after taking one look at the word etched into dirt, members of the search party knew they had one last spot to check. They made their way up to the cabin and shouted for Ogle, but initially couldn’t hear anything over the noise created by their vehicles’ engines.
So, the search team switched everything off to reduce the background noise. Then, as Trumbich recalled, “The [rescue worker] turns around and yells, ‘Hello?’ Then, we heard a ‘hello’ over the ridge.”
The search team found a teenage girl a little way off the track, nestled down among the trees. Trumbich said, “She was laying in a sleeping bag, and [the rescue worker] was like, he goes, ‘What’s your name?’ She said, ‘Katie.’”
Ogle had survived her two-day ordeal partly because she went into Trumbich and Gordon’s cabin, where she found some supplies to use in the wilderness. The hunters said they were glad she did, although she seemed to assume they’d be angry.
“She looked very scared when she came out, like she was scared she was going to get in trouble, like we were going to yell at her for being in the cabin,” Gordon told KHQ. But he and his stepfather were thrilled to have been able to help. “Katie, […] we’re just happy you’re alive,” Gordon added.
As for their rescue effort, Trumbich and Gordon didn’t take any of the credit. Instead, they said they ended up in the right place at the right time. “And that cabin just happened to be there for her,” Gordon added.
In fact, the cabin’s bounty had helped her survive. The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said the 19-year-old had gone to the hospital to ensure she was okay, although it was a precaution – she appeared to be “in relatively good condition” when the search team found her, according to TV news station WTHR.