A Death in the Desert :...

Joe Morgenstern is a journalist and screenwriter who lives in Santa Monica

At this time last year, when Aaron Bacon was 16, his young life was in tumult, though it was still a life.

A funny, endearing kid for most of his privileged childhood, Aaron had changed, within a matter of months, into a testy, withdrawn stranger. A gifted kid who had loved to write poetry in a lyrical mode, he was ditching school and lying about it. As his grades slipped, his writing lost its literary luster. More and more, his poems read like death-rock lyrics from the backs of old vinyl-album covers. Like so many of his peers, Aaron was caught in a downward spiral of drugs, alcohol and anger.

His parents knew this. They had coped with the adolescent rebellion of their older son, Jarid, and recognized Aaron’s behavior as another stormy rite of passage. Yet their knowledge was clouded by fear. Gangs had spread from Los Angeles to Phoenix, where the Bacons lived, drugs were pandemic, and Aaron had recently transferred to a public school, Central High, from a rigorous, and sheltered, private school in nearby Paradise Valley; with his beguiling gift of gab, he had lobbied for the switch on the grounds that his private school “wasn’t providing enough socioeconomic diversity.”


When Aaron was jumped by a group of local Crips in Central High’s parking lot, he denied any involvement in a gang. But a witness said the Crips had called him Rabbit, which suggested something other than a chance encounter; Aaron’s parents figured that he’d been selling the gangbangers pot. At that point, Bob and Sally Bacon--he is a Phoenix architect and designer, noted for big projects like the Boulders Resort in Carefree; she is an artist and part-time real-estate agent--realized that they had to do something right away.

They pulled Aaron out of school but found themselves at a loss about what to do next. Then Sally recalled having heard from a friend about a couple who had sent their rebellious son to North Star Expeditions, Inc., a 4-year-old “wilderness therapy” group in southern Utah. Several such organizations in the Western states take troubled youngsters on long, rigorous treks in the desert, the theory being that teaching kids survival skills and self-discipline will enhance their self-esteem. A few of these programs have excellent reputations, but the wilderness-therapy business as a whole has a tainted history about which the Bacons knew nothing when they called North Star’s 800 number and asked for a brochure.

Wilderness therapy! The phrase plays, with perfect pitch, on the conscious needs and unconscious yearnings of desperate parents. It suggests the tough-minded challenge of Outward Bound and the purifying spirit of Thoreau. And in a crude, shrewd way, the cover of the North Star brochure struck its own resonant, even quasi-religious, chord: It showed the figure of a young man with a backpack in silhouette against a desert sunset, standing tall on a mountaintop and pointing to a shining star.

Never mind that the cover shot was a fuzzy composite, the star was a fake and the advertising copy inside was a pastiche of earnest-sounding slogans (“The students at North Star Expeditions learn that Mother Nature does not make exceptions.”) and glib, semiliterate promises (“North Star Expeditions can and will help your child find their way home”). Sally and Bob Bacon were in no mood to scrutinize the prose with cool detachment. On top of the panic and despair most parents feel when their children spin out of control, they were beset by guilt: Sally, the attractive, emotive daughter of an Irish father and an Italian mother, had gone through her own drug wars in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Bob, a Midwesterner by birth and tightly wound, with a ponytail and a sharp, dry wit, was a recovering alcoholic, sober for 8 1/2 years after a drinking career that spanned two decades. “Aaron felt I was overreacting because of my own experiences,” Bob said, “that I’d lost perspective on his life.”

After reading the brochure, the Bacons spoke by telephone with Barbara Jagger and Pattie Henry, the wives of the company’s co-owners, Lance Jagger and William Henry, who assured them that Aaron would be in good hands. North Star gave them a list of other parents whose children had gone through the 63-day program in the high desert of southern Utah. (Ninety percent of the hundreds of youngsters who have passed through the program have come from Southern California.) None of the parents, in retrospect, said the North Star program was wonderful, but every call that Sally made yielded a recommendation. What’s more, wilderness therapy seemed to offer a good fit with Aaron’s personality. Two years before, the Bacons had sent Jarid to Hazelton, a conventional drug and alcohol treatment center in Minnesota, but with mixed results; only later did Jarid, now 19 and living with his girlfriend while he attends Phoenix College, turn his life around on his own. All the more reason, then, to find an alternative for Aaron, with his unconventional style and his fondness for solitude. They decided to give North Star a try.

That meant taking a second mortgage on their house. North Star charged $13,900, plus transportation, and Jarid’s treatment had already tapped out the Bacons’ medical insurance. But Sally, in particular, believed that the investment in wilderness therapy would be worthwhile. “I pictured Aaron sitting around campfires, being nurtured by nature,” she says. “I thought I was sending him to a little slice of heaven.”

On Monday, Feb. 28, Bob and Sally met Lance Jagger, or “Horsehair,” as he likes to call himself, for the first time. The 37-year-old Air Force veteran had flown to Phoenix in a single-engine Cessna that North Star operated from its base at a remote airstrip in Escalante, Utah. Jagger cuts a forbidding figure--obese, bearded and aggressively rough-hewn--but he can speak with some eloquence when he chooses. He explained that he and his brother-in-law, who lived in Phoenix and whose name was never mentioned, would be dealing firmly and decisively with Aaron when they took him, by surprise, from the Bacons’ home.

Aaron got the first inkling of his fate the next morning, March 1. At 6 a.m., Mae, one of three Shar-peis in the house, woke him up with anxious whining outside his bedroom door. Moments later, all three dogs began to growl and bark. Suddenly, the door burst open and Aaron’s father walked in, accompanied by Jagger and the brother-in-law. “Aaron,” Bob Bacon said. “I love you, but we’re going to have to make some changes today. These two guys are here from North Star to take you, and I want you to go with them.”

Aaron, terrified, made a move to get up. Jagger grabbed his arm. When the boy tried to pull away, Jagger put both hands on Aaron’s shoulders, pushed him back into bed and said, according to the Bacons: “You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but if you try to pull away from me, I’m going to take the appropriate action.”

Just before Aaron left the house in the custody of his handlers, Sally says she tried to hug him, but Jagger wouldn’t allow it. Instead, she gave him a quick kiss, said she loved him and told him not to be afraid, that they were doing what they thought best. Moments later, when Jagger’s rented car drove off, Bob broke down and wept.

Then, once a week, as directed by North Star, Sally called Barbara Jagger in Escalante for reports on their son’s progress. The news was not reassuring. First Aaron had been disciplined for talking about unspecified “inappropriate things.” Then Aaron was uncooperative. Then Aaron was refusing to carry his pack.

This angered Sally, but it also baffled her. Aaron was certainly at war with his parents, but his attitude toward the rest of the world was another story. Like so many rebellious kids, he needed to prove himself outside his family. Only two days before his sudden removal to Utah, Aaron had landed a job selling tickets for the Phoenix Symphony and was proud of having done so without his parents’ help. The child described by Barbara Jagger--a slacker, a whiner, a chronic complainer--was not a child Sally knew.

Yet, she and Bob might have guessed wrong about Aaron rising to the challenge of a wilderness trek; perhaps North Star was a mistake. That was Jarid’s feeling when, on March 30, he took his mother to lunch and told her that as far as he was concerned, his younger brother was just a punk teen-aged kid who would outgrow his problems, just as Jarid had done.

The next day, as Sally was driving through town, her pager went off. When she got home and called the pager company, North Star’s number came up. Moments later, she listened in horror as Barbara Jagger said: “Aaron’s down and we can’t get a pulse.”

In fact, Aaron was dead. After collapsing on the trail, he had died in the back of a North Star pickup truck on Hole in the Rock Road, 15 miles southeast of Escalante. An emergency evacuation helicopter summoned by North Star took Aaron’s body to a medical facility in Page, Ariz., where a doctor made the death official.

When law enforcement officials arrived at Hole in the Rock Road from tiny Panguitch, the Garfield County seat 70 miles to the west, they had no reason to suspect wrongdoing. Aaron Bacon, they were told by students and counselors alike, had collapsed without warning and had died despite repeated efforts by North Star’s staff, and then an ambulance crew from Escalante, to revive him with CPR. At the same time, these officials--Sheriff Than Cooper, Deputy Sheriff Celeste Bernards and County Attorney Wallace Lee--knew something that Bob and Sally Bacon did not: Two teen-agers had already died while trekking through the desert with other Utah-based wilderness groups. A third death would need careful looking into.

Deputy Bernards, a mother of three as well as an officer with 2 1/2 years of homicide-investigation experience in Salt Lake City, interviewed counselors from Aaron’s group in her patrol truck. A day later, she asked the students to prepare written statements and collected them along with the daily journals that students and counselors alike had kept on the trail. Everyone seemed reasonably cooperative, and everyone told more or less the same story, of a death that had occurred without warning.

The story soon received support from an autopsy, performed in Flagstaff, that found a perforated ulcer in Aaron’s large intestine. The contents of his digestive system had leaked through the hole into the abdominal cavity, causing severe damage and acute peritonitis. In the bloodless lexicon of forensic medicine, this was considered natural causes.

But there was nothing natural about the spectacle that greeted Bob and Sally Bacon at a Phoenix mortuary. They might have mistaken their son’s body for someone else’s, were it not for a childhood scar above one eye. For Aaron, already thin at 131 pounds on his 5 foot, 11 1/2-inch frame when he entered the North Star program one month before, had wasted away to 108 pounds. With his sunken cheeks, toothpick legs and bulging knees, he looked for all the world like a concentration camp victim. Sally covered her eyes, screaming hysterically. Bob tried to comfort her, but he felt the same mixture of horror and bewilderment that she did. Aaron had never complained of stomach problems, let alone manifested symptoms of an ulcer, and it seemed inconceivable that an ulcer, in itself, could account for his emaciated state. Something else, something inexplicably sinister, they sensed, had killed their son.

A few days later, horror piled upon horror when a Phoenix television reporter called the Bacons at home to tell them of two previous wilderness-therapy deaths, both in 1990. Then a woman named Cathy Sutton called from Northern California to offer her condolences and some appalling details. Her daughter, Michelle, had died, Cathy Sutton told them, of severe dehydration during the first desert trek organized by a provisionally licensed, poorly equipped Utah outfit called Summit Quest. Six weeks later, 16-year-old Kristen Chase, from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., died of heat stroke while participating in another wilderness-therapy program, the Challenger Foundation, which was run, out of Escalante, by an entrepreneur named Steve Cartisano. A hugely profitable enterprise while it lasted, Challenger operated without a license and lost two of its key employees in the statewide outcry that followed Kristen Chase’s death. Those employees, the Bacons learned, were Lance Jagger and Bill Henry, both of whom turned state’s witnesses when Utah tried, and failed, to put Cartisano in jail for negligent homicide.

Aaron Bacon was buried in Phoenix on Easter Monday. The following Thursday, Bob and Sally drove to Utah to see where he had died. In Escalante they met Wallace Lee, Than Cooper and Celeste Bernards, who were quietly sympathetic; the Bacons chose not to confront Lance Jagger and Bill Henry. Bob, describing his shock at the condition of Aaron’s body, asked Lee whether the case would be investigated further. Yes, the county prosecutor replied, he and his colleagues were very concerned about the circumstances. Without elaborating on this, Lee handed the Bacons their son’s journal.

Until then, Bob and Sally thought that nothing could be worse than what they had already gone through. But they were wrong. Plunging into Aaron’s journal that night at their motel, they found the frightened, then anguished, then frantic chronicle of a desperately ill child--their child, their beloved son--who did not know the source of his excruciating pain and who could not comprehend why his counselors kept responding to his pleas for help with mockery, accusations of faking and increasingly pitiless punishment. Aaron’s journal, the Bacons concluded, was more than a chronicle of cruelty; it was evidence of criminal behavior.

Deputy Celeste Bernards reached the same conclusion, though only after months of painstaking work. She studied all of the students’ and counselors’ journals, cross-referenced their contents, saw that they corroborated Aaron’s own account, then organized the evidence, including weather data, into calendar form. From that she calculated how many days Aaron had been forced to go without a sleeping bag (14 of 20 days on the trail), without so much as a blanket (four days, three of which were marked by below-freezing temperatures) and without food (11 days, plus four days on which he had only meal, and one day on which his only food was a lizard and a scorpion).

“The poor kid was freezing out there,” says prosecutor Wallace Lee, who runs a one-man office in Panguitch. “It really struck me hard. Aaron was bright, and here he was writing in his diary about having blurry vision. It was just terrible.” Confronted by this array of red flags, Lee asked the state attorney general’s Children’s Justice Division for help in bringing criminal charges. He also expressed concern that North Star was being allowed to take more children into the desert, despite his ongoing investigation. This was a thorny issue, because the state licensing specialist charged with overseeing wilderness-therapy camps, Ken Stettler, had worked hard and effectively to impose controls on an essentially unregulated industry in the wake of the Summit Quest and Challenger tragedies. But Stettler had also declared North Star in full compliance with state guidelines only weeks after Aaron Bacon’s death.

In response to Lee’s calls, a team of investigators from Salt Lake City made a surprise visit, on Sept. 7, to North Star’s unmarked offices in a weather-beaten prefab building next to a machine shop at Escalante airport. In the course of what they termed a spot inspection, the investigators checked company records and copied individual student files. The following day, two doctors, a psychologist and a nurse flew in from Salt Lake City. After examining 21 youngsters still involved in the program, they deemed three girls unfit to continue and placed them in nearby foster homes until they could be returned to their families.

Shortly afterward, in a conversation with this reporter in Escalante, Jagger called the inspection a “witch hunt,” and heaped scorn on the investigators for taking “solely the word of the kids.” In the same conversation, Jagger’s partner, Bill Henry, sought to defend North Star’s treatment of Aaron Bacon by attacking the victim. Henry, formerly an Idaho farmer, portrayed Aaron as having been a heavy drug user--"Not just one joint a day, we’re talking continuous"--and insisted that Aaron must have been suffering from an ulcer for a long time, with marijuana masking the symptoms: “This thing did not pop up in 20 days.” (Prosecutors say there’s no evidence of Aaron having had an ulcer prior to his arrival at North Star. As for the effects of marijuana, doctors consulted for this article say that nothing could mask a perforated ulcer’s pain.)

On Oct. 18, the state of Utah filed felony child-abuse charges against Jagger, Henry and seven of their employees, all of whom now are free on their own recognizance. One defendant, a woman named Georgette Costigan, was additionally charged with tampering with witnesses. In the hours after Aaron’s death, according to Mike Hill, a North Star employee who has cooperated with the investigation, Costigan looked at the statements prepared for the sheriff’s office by Aaron’s fellow students and insisted that the youngsters revise them because “these look incriminating.”

No alterations were made in the journals kept by students and counselors during Aaron’s fateful trek. They, together with the results of Celeste Bernards’ inquiry and Aaron’s own account, constitute the main body of evidence in the case and the source of the following narrative.

After Aaron’s arrival in Utah on March 1st, he was given a medical exam--by a physician’s assistant, not by the doctor himself--and certified to be in good overall health, according to the prosecution’s account. He and five other new students went into what North Star called its A-team, a process of acclimation, over 10 days, to the chilly winter temperatures and 5,000-foot-plus altitude of their new surroundings. This gave Aaron some time to ponder his fate, and his early journal entries bespeak the fractured, forlorn logic of many troubled teens.

“I see my parents as the source of all my problems right now,” Aaron wrote after arriving in Escalante. His parents were anti-drug hysterics, his parents didn’t understand that pot is not addictive, his parents didn’t trust him, he wasn’t a drug addict at all, but then again he had used other drugs, so why should his parents trust him? For all his intelligence, Aaron was a little kid overwhelmed by huge events.

But Aaron soon began to acknowledge some harsh realities. He was alone. He yearned for his girlfriend, Carrie Colburn. He was cold: “I have been shaking with cold since I got here . . . . I feel like I’m going to die.” And as early as March 5, he was in pain: “My stomach really hurts. I’ve had gas all day. This isn’t really pleasant stuff to read but o well it’s my day and my journal”.

On March 11 he moved to North Star’s so-called Primitive Section, which plunged new students into the actual wilderness phase with desert hikes and a two-day fast. Aaron was scared, but he tried to psych himself up: ". . . my self-discipline is going to skyrocket, as the staff obviously doesn’t take any breaking of the rules.”

While some of his earnest, upbeat entries were written for the benefit of the counselors, who reviewed student journals every night, Aaron was also reconsidering his relationship with his parents. “I wonder if they miss me,” he wrote. “They haven’t written. I wonder if they are still angry at me for my behavior when I left. I should have told them I love them & I’m sorry I didn’t. I didn’t even hug them & that was terrible. I sure wish I could hug them & tell them I love them now.”

His second day in the Primitive Section was marked by the onset of obvious physical distress. He fell on the trail and couldn’t get up by himself because his pack was too heavy. Falling a second time, he sensed his whole body go numb. “I was down for so long that I began to lose sight. Not go blind, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open.” He felt bad for being “the wimp” who impeded the group’s progress, but two days later, March 14, his pride seemed less important than his persistent pain. “I’m just so enveloped in pain,” Aaron wrote after slipping on a slick rock and bashing his chin. “Now all I can think about is heat, sleep & food.”

The next day Aaron lost his pack and was forced to go without supplies until someone returned it on March 17. During that time, according to investigators, he often collapsed on the trail, where counselors revived him by dousing him with water. On March 17 he managed to do well on the hike--probably because he got something to eat after having been deprived of food, apart from a can of peaches, for the previous five days--and his spirits rallied. “Today has been my first good day here at North Star. I wondered if I’d ever have one, especially in Primitive. My legs are still in some total pain but other than that it’s been a good day.”

It was the last good day of his life. On March 18, Aaron’s group forded a gulch through chin-deep water. Because he was too weak to lift his pack over his head, everything in it got soaked, including the food he needed to survive. That night, still wet and shivering, he sat as close to a fire as his counselors would allow--not close enough to get dry--and recorded his growing terror of what he had later termed “legal child abuse”: “I am so scared here of everything, staff, slickrock, nights, the cold, my pack, everything . . . my nose has been bleeding for the past couple of days & even that scares me. I never had nosebleeds at home . . . .”

Anyone with half a brain, plus a heart, could see that Aaron was too enfeebled to cope with the program’s basic demands. He couldn’t walk fast enough, couldn’t carry his supplies, couldn’t wash his clothes or build a fire. Yet, according to investigators, his agony was greeted by the group’s anger that he was slowing them down with taunts--several students, along with their counselors, told him they thought he was gay--and by endless lectures about the need to work harder. Then came new, Draconian punishment. Counselors took away his sleeping bag, forcing him to sleep in the open on two windy, icy-cold nights with the temperature as low as 25 degrees.

On March 21, after wetting his pants three nights in a row and soiling them uncontrollably during the day, Aaron sought to convince his counselors, whom he continued to call “Sir” in keeping with North Star’s rules, that he was sick and needed a doctor, but they would have none of it. In their view he was faking. “I am in terrible condition here,” he wrote that night in an entry that was barely legible. “My hands are all chapped & my lips are cracking. I feel like I’m losing control of my body.” By March 22, his handwriting had become an erratic scrawl, with misspellings, such as “Pheonix” instead of Phoenix, that suggest the onset of delirium. “I miss my family so much,” Aaron wrote. “The wind has been atrocious . . . . My hands, my lips & my back are dead. Now we have to build another shelter. The one we built is horrible but it took us forever, we all really did try. Now we can’t eat. I need to eat now. I haven’t been able to eat trail food all day . . . I am so cold.”

Aaron’s journal ended on that day, but his calvary did not. He was deprived of food, yet again, for the next two days, according to investigators’ findings. On the day following that, March 25, Henry and Jagger, the latter trained in emergency medical care, visited the Primitive group and, as later charged by the prosecution, lectured their problem child on the evils of malingering. The two men also took his metal cup away from him because he wasn’t keeping it clean. Other students watched as counselors pushed Aaron to walk faster and he kept falling to the ground. But they were forbidden to give him help, or food, and under North Star’s tight discipline, no one dared to break the rules.

On March 26, Aaron’s only nourishment was prickly pear cactus and pine needle tea. Other youngsters in his group described him variously as looking “bulimic,” “weak and brittle,” “like a skeleton,” an “old man” or “like he was from Auschwitz or Ethiopia.” On March 27, he was given rice and lentils but nothing to drink, because his water and Gookinaid, a product similar to Gatorade, apparently had been stolen.

On March 30th one of Aaron’s counselors called North Star’s base and asked Georgette Costigan, another staff member trained in emergency medicine, to check Aaron out. Costigan arrived to find him on the trail. She gave him a piece of cheese, but she left as soon as he resumed hiking. Investigators say Costigan made no effort to perform a medical evaluation. She seemed to accept the prevailing opinion that Aaron Bacon was a shameless fake.

The leader of another North Star group felt otherwise. Mike Hill, a 20-year-old Apache from the San Carlos Indian Reservation in southeastern Arizona, had no training in medicine, or much else. He’d been a drifter on the reservation when North Star offered him a job in Escalante, then recruited him into service as a counselor in the field. On the evening of March 30, Hill found Aaron’s backpack in a wash and took it over to him--the two campsites were only a mile apart. Hill, who had met Aaron during the acclimation phase and liked him, was shocked by what he later called Aaron’s “anorexic” appearance and his constant moans.

The next morning, Hill got a radio call from one of Aaron’s counselors, asking if Aaron, unable to hike to the next destination, could spend the day with Hill’s group, which was scheduled to remain at its encampment. Hill agreed and volunteered to pick Aaron up.

When Hill and his students arrived, he found Aaron’s condition terrifyingly worse. Hill told authorities that Aaron was sitting in a latrine, too weak to get up, while one of his counselors taunted him and gave an imitation of how he’d collapsed. Outraged by the counselor’s behavior, Hill demanded to know what was going on. The counselor replied that Aaron had been starving himself because he wanted to die.

Hill and one of the students from his group lifted Aaron off the latrine, carried him to a shady spot beneath a tree and laid him down. Hill asked Aaron if what the counselor said was true. The boy, whose hearing had become impaired, strained for Hill’s words. “Please speak louder, sir. I can’t hear you,” Aaron said, speaking loudly himself because he couldn’t gauge the volume of his own voice. Hill repeated his question: “Are you doing this because you want to die?”

“No, sir,” Aaron replied. “I don’t want to die, sir.”

Hill made Aaron some oatmeal and tried to feed him. After swallowing a few spoonfuls, Aaron moaned in pain and could not eat any more. He also said in a raspy voice that he couldn’t see well because his vision had become “a white glare.”

By this time, Hill says, he knew that Aaron was dying. Taking some yellow medicine-man powder from his pocket, Hill scattered it around while he and his students prayed. Aaron urinated on himself uncontrollably, but Hill lay down on the ground beside him, continuing his prayers, while one of the boys in his group wept.

During the afternoon, a truck driven by Eric Henry, one of Bill Henry’s sons, left Escalante to pick Aaron up. Incredible as it seems, North Star had now decided, according to the criminal charges, to put Aaron through the acclimation process a second time, either to shape him up or to fatten him up before physicians could see how wasted he had become. As Eric Henry neared the campsite, he radioed to Hill that he should “get the faker ready.” When the truck arrived, Aaron was told to get in, but he fell down and was too weak to get to his feet. Henry lifted him into the back of the truck and then, as Mike Hill has stated, spent 15 or 20 minutes chatting with other staff members. As far as Hill could see, no one was in a hurry to get Aaron back to Escalante. A few minutes before 3 p.m., Hill and Henry returned to the truck and found Aaron unconscious, without a pulse. The two men put Aaron on the ground, and Hill started CPR, or as much of the technique as he could remember, while Henry radioed his home base. When Georgette Costigan arrived, she assisted with the CPR and, according to Hill, kept saying “Oh, s - - -! Oh, s - - -!” as they tried unavailingly to bring Aaron back to life.

Sometime in the latter half of this year, Lance Jagger, Bill Henry and their co-defendants in the North Star case will stand trial in the little town of Panguitch. If convicted, they face penalties of up to five years in prison and $10,000 in fines. The Bacons have filed civil suits against all defendants, and the state of Utah is talking yet again about tightening regulations for its wilderness-therapy programs.

Meanwhile, Bob and Sally, who have never heard a word from the parents of other youngsters in Aaron’s group, keep Aaron’s memory alive by talking about him, thinking about him, smiling about him when they can, looking at his pictures, cherishing his poems. “Dreaming with a heart full of wonder,” he wrote in one sonnet, “And a mind full of knowledge/Our thirst for life and love/Does not set with the sun behind us.” Once, those words, so full of young hope, made his parents proud. Now they are almost too painful to bear.

In the long months since their younger son’s death, Bob and Sally Bacon have tried to remember Aaron’s heart full of wonder, but they keep coming back to the terror and pain that he diligently recorded in his journal, and then, inescapably, to their own crushing sense of guilt for sending him off on his wilderness journey. Jarid, for his part, is still trying to grasp the fact that Aaron is gone--"We were so close; we looked up to each other"--and to convince his parents that his kid brother’s death wasn’t their fault. “There’s no way,” he tells them, “you could have known what would happen.”

Yet there is some solace to be found in Aaron’s journal, the last testament of a young man who struggled mightily, even gallantly, to survive. A lesser spirit would have given up trying to hike, given up trying to build a fire, simply given up. But Aaron persevered. In his mortally weakened state, Aaron Bacon found great strength.