An autopsy report made available by the Gunnison County Coroner’s Office recounts the tragic story of a family who decided to embrace an off-grid lifestyle in Colorado’s wilderness during the winter. The primary causes of death for all three members were identified as malnutrition and hypothermia.
In a somber discovery on July 9, a hiker found the body of a 14-year-old boy near Gold Creek Campground. The boy’s weight was a mere 40 pounds, drastically lower than the 112-pound average weight recommended by the CDC for boys of his age.
Further investigations led officials to a remote campsite where they found the bodies of the boy’s mother, Rebecca Vance, 42, and aunt, Christine Vance, 41. This location was well over 100 miles from their original Colorado Springs home. Notably, the campsite had empty food containers and several survival guidebooks, yet there was a conspicuous absence of food and heating equipment.
Trevala Jara, who was closely related to the Vance sisters, provided deeper insights. The young boy, who began the journey at 13, had initial hesitations but eventually decided to be with his mother. The initiative to live in seclusion came from Rebecca Vance. Family members had described her as an introverted individual who wasn’t necessarily skilled in outdoor activities. Nevertheless, she was adamant about this new life and managed to persuade her younger sister to join them. Their primary source of survival knowledge came from YouTube videos on the subject.
The family, last seen in the previous October, had been absent for months. Their final communications revealed a significant underestimation of Colorado’s harsh winter. The findings from the autopsy suggest that their end came in the last winter, evidenced by the multiple layers of clothing they wore and the cross pendants they had.
The environment they hoped to thrive in presented substantial challenges, including severe snowfall and persistently freezing temperatures.