Saturday, 2:15 PM
Retired State Police captain missing in Idaho wilderness
By David Abel, Globe Staff
Thirteen days ago, despite nursing a bruised knee, retired State Police Captain Ronald S. Gray said goodbye to two hunting buddies, shouldered a 100-pound backpack, and disappeared into the Idaho woods.
Ronald S. Gray/family photo
The experienced outdoorsman from North Brookfield, who survived two tours in Vietnam, was supposed to return to their base camp by Sept. 23. He never showed.
A day later, the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office and the Idaho Army National Guard sent teams on horseback and helicopter to search the Nez Perce National Forest, a rugged mountain area spanning about 8,500 square miles. They have yet to find a trace of Gray.
“If he can survive the jungles of Vietnam, he can survive this,” his wife, Nancy Gray, said in a telephone interview today. “This was his third trip to Idaho. He knew the area as best as anyone can. I know he can find food. He’s eaten bugs and snakes before, so that’s not an issue. He knows what to do about water and shelter. We’re confident we’ll see him again.”
She thinks her husband may have misjudged the injury to his knee. His friends told her that he fell on a rock the day before he ventured off on his own to hunt for elk and deer. His knee was so swollen he skipped hunting for the day and soaked his knee in a cold stream.
“He thought he was fine,” she said.
Gray, 62, spent 26 years working for the state, first as an officer with the Metropolitan District Commission and then as a trooper with the State Police, after the agencies merged in 1992.
He worked in the canine unit with the MDC and then as a trooper Gray helped inspect other units to ensure they met state police standards, said David Procopio, a State Police spokesman.
Procopio said they have been in contact with Idaho authorities.
“We’re monitoring the situation,” Procopio said. “The Idaho authorities who know the terrain are best suited for this. We just hope he’s found safe.”
Idaho County Sheriff Deputy Chief John Nida said his officers would search for Gray “as long as weather and resources permit.”
He said Gray had a GPS unit, a solar-powered radio, warm clothing, and enough food and water to last more than a week. He added local outfitters have stashed caches of food and supplies throughout the area where he was hiking.
“He’s aware of where the caches are,” Nida said.
He said the temperature in the area has been in the mid-80s over the past week. But the temperature is expected to drop this weekend and the first snows could appear soon.
Gray also may have to contend with grizzly bears, mountain lions, and wolves, but Nida said that in his 27 years working in the area, he has never heard of anyone attacked by such animals that inhabit the area. And, if needed, he has protection. Gray was carrying a Remington 270-bolt action rifle and a gut knife.
Nida said the county’s search teams have a 90 percent success rate. He added it has been about two decades since the county failed to track down someone lost in the woods.
“We’re treating him as though he’s lost and needing assistance to get out,” Nida said. “We’re confident that this will have a happy outcome. We know he is a very determined and tough individual.”
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