Before leaving, they “watched some YouTube videos” about “how to live off the grid,” a family member said
A family member of two sisters and a teen whose bodies were discovered “fairly mummified” in a remote Colorado campsite earlier this month said their deaths should serve as a warning: living in the wilderness without proper experience can be deadly.
On Tuesday, the Gunnison County Coroner’s Office identified the individuals as Rebecca Vance, 42, Christine Vance, 41, as well as Rebecca’s 14-year-old son, according to a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
Trevala Jara, Rebecca and Christine’s stepsister, told The Washington Post that the decision to “live off the grid” was made as Rebecca’s fears about the world intensified.
“She didn’t like the way the world was going, and she thought it would be better if her and her son and Christine were alone, away from everybody,” Jara, 39, told the newspaper. “She didn’t want the influences of the world to get to them. She really thought she was protecting her family.”
Although Christine wasn’t always planning on going, Jara told The New York Times she decided to come along “because she thought that if she was with them, they had a better chance of surviving.”
“We tried to stop them. But they wouldn’t listen,” she said while speaking with The Washington Post.
Not knowing where they planned on going, Jara told The Los Angeles Times that she asked Christine to send postcards to let her know they were safe, but the postcards never came.
Gunnison County Coroner Michael Barnes told The Colorado Sun that he believed that possibly malnutrition and “exposure to the elements” through a harsh winter last year contributed to their deaths, though current analyses on their cause of death are still pending.
The autopsy reports are still incomplete, and the office is awaiting a toxicology report, per The Los Angeles Times. Barnes also expressed concern about carbon monoxide poisoning, citing evidence that the family attempted to stay warm by burning materials, including vegetation in soup cans, inside their tent.
“At this point it appears that these three individuals began long term camping at the location near Gold Creek Campground in (approximately) mid-late July last Summer 2022 and attempted to stay through the winter,” he told The Colorado Sun and CNN. He did not say when he believed they possibly could have died.
A hiker discovered one of the “heavily decomposed” bodies about 1,000 feet from a site near the Gold Creek Campground around 4:57 p.m. on June 9, according to the sheriff’s office. The bodies were discovered in a dark patch of timber, Gunnison County Sheriff Adam Murdie told The Colorado Sun.
The sheriff’s office went on to note that investigators “located the campsite and discovered two additional heavily decomposed deceased individuals within the campsite.”
Speaking with The New York Times, Jara said that Rebecca had “good intentions,” but she was plagued with fears, which worsened during the pandemic.
“The fear overwhelmed her, most definitely,” Jara told The Washington Post. “I did feel a shift in her.”
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Before they left, Jara told The Washington Post that the family “watched some YouTube videos” about “how to live off the grid” but had “no experience.”
“YouTube and the internet is not enough,” Jara added while speaking with The Los Angeles Times.
She went on to tell the newspaper that she and her husband even tried to persuade them to use their RV and generator in the mountains as a test run. The idea appealed to Christine but not to Rebecca, who was certain they could “live on their own,” Jara told the newspaper.
“[Rebecca] really thought she was saving her son and Christine by living by themselves and being off the grid,” Jara added. “I really did not think it was going to get this far.”
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