Arizona teen, another ‘Into the Wild’ fan, perishes in wilderness

Johnathan Croom, the missing teen found dead in Oregon.
(Uncredited / Associated Press)
<i>This post has been updated. See the note below for details.</i>

Johnathan Croom, an 18-year-old from Arizona, was found dead Monday evening in the woods of southern Oregon. The teen had gone missing in mid-August; the search for him had recently intensified, with his father appearing on CNN to help spread the word.

Croom’s SUV had been found Wednesday in Riddle, Ore. Douglas County sheriff’s spokesman Dwes Hutson said Croom had “talked to his parents about Christopher McCandless, whose journey to Alaska was documented in the book ‘Into the Wild,’” the Associated Press reported.

[Updated, 8:20 a.m PDT Aug. 28: Croom’s body was discovered after authorities became aware of text messages indicating that he may have been suicidal, which changed the nature of the search. Officials said Croom’s death does not appear to be related to the book “Into the Wild,” as his parents had originally thought.]


Written by Jon Krakauer, “Into the Wild” was published in 1996 and adapted into a 2007 film directed by Sean Penn. It tells the story of McCandless, a recent college graduate who left his belongings behind and hitchhiked to Alaska, seeking to find deeper meaning in the wilderness. Inspired by writers like Thoreau and Jack London, McCandless was not prepared for the conditions he would face; he died four months after he walked into the Alaska woods, a victim of accidental poisoning or starvation.

Despite its tragic end, “Into the Wild” has inspired more than one young man to head into the wilderness. In April, Dustin Self, a 19-year-old from Oklahoma, disappeared in the wilds of Oregon.

The Oklahoman reported that Self “left his parents’ home in Piedmont in March after being inspired by the movie ‘Into the Wild.’ He planned to take a long camping trip and look into two Oregon churches that use a hallucinogenic tea as a sacrament.” His parents initially hoped Self was “carrying through with his dream of living off the land,” but extreme weather conditions raised serious concerns.

Self’s truck was found in rugged back country in April; searches for the young man continued into May. He has not been found.

Other fans have specifically followed McCandless’ footsteps. The abandoned bus that he used as a shelter near Denali National Park has become a kind of tourist attraction. “It’s almost like a Jim Morrison grave site, where people just want to go see it,” 44-year-old hiker Ron Alexander told the Associated Press in 2009.

In 2010, two European hikers were trying to reach the bus when they attempted to cross the Teklanika River; one, Claire Jane Ackermann, was pulled under and drowned. It was the same river that McCandless found too turbulent to cross, keeping him from returning to civilization.


Croom had another book with him in Oregon: “How to Stay Alive in the Woods” by Bradford Angier. But a video shows that he left it behind in his SUV.


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