I knew immediately when I heard the news that Annie, the daughter of Jon Schmidt of The Piano Guys, was missing in Oregon, that my son David and I would go to help search. I started making plans for the trip even before David came home. I revised everything on my calendar for the next week to be sure there would be nothing to get in the way.
I told David what happened, and without knowing that I was ready to go, David told me that he wanted to go and asked me to go with him. His choir director is the arranger of the music performed by The Piano Guys, and he served his LDS mission in Oregon. We were on our way within a couple hours, taking turns driving all night.
Search and rescue is something I have done in the past, but decided I have had enough of what is a very difficult task, both physically and emotionally. But I just knew that going was the right thing to do, even though past experience on similar searches rarely had the desired results. I spent a great deal of time during the long drive in prayer (yes, even while driving), seeking spiritual guidance and help. It is not something I take lightly. I know that God hears and answers prayer, and I prayed that we would safety and be led by the Spirit to find Annie.
We arrived the next morning and checked in at the base camp ready to go to work. We spent the entire day hiking trails in a beautiful area with a number of dramatic waterfalls and beautiful scenery. We were as thorough as possible in our search, and I made a significant effort to be continually prayerful in my heart as we went, listening for that “still small voice” of the Holy Ghost as my “guide and companion.”
The Spirit was whispering to me, but the “noise” of my own emotions made it difficult to recognize. I wanted so much to help return a lost daughter to her mother and father, and struggled because it was my own worst fear, to lose my precious daughter.
A few hours into our search we came to a switchback (a sharp turn in the trail) and saw a beautiful sight. I stood in awe and amazement as the sun streamed through a break in the clouds and put on a glorious display of light through the mist in the trees. It lasted only a few minutes and then the sun was lost behind the clouds once again. God got my attention with a beautiful display. He got me to pause, be quiet, and simply empty my mind of all the many, many thoughts that were distracting me from His Spirit. It was just what I needed. I felt a warm, spiritual reassurance that my Heavenly Father knew what we were doing, and had sent His Spirit to comfort us and guide us, and through the Spirit I felt peace. I no longer felt sad, but still had empathy for the parents and wanted so very much to help them.
We hiked many long, difficult trails and covered about 16 miles that first day. The feeling of peace never left me, and I was happy. The sadness was gone and I was genuinely happy. Happy to be in such a beautiful place, happy to be with my son sharing this experience together, and happy to help such a very important effort.
The next day was Sunday. David and I teamed up with Piano Guy Steven Sharp Nelson and his wonderful wife. We hiked in an area where we felt Annie would likely go because of the very scenic waterfalls. It was a long day on 15 or so miles of trails, but my hopes and prayers to be led to where we could find Annie were not answered. I still felt a great sense of peace, but wanted so much to bring Annie home to her wonderful family. My prayers continued. It was a continual process, and I felt that Heavenly Father was listening, and the Spirit was there, but there was nothing telling me where to search. Steve spent most of the day hiking side by side, hand in hand with his lovely wife. Seeing them helped bring perspective to what we were doing.
The process of seeking spiritual guidance was not new to me. It was a part of my life. I pray about everything, and try to seek guidance in all that I do.
I was so amazed with the outpouring of support. There were hundreds of people who came from many places to help in the search. Most of the people I spoke to said they did not know The Piano Guys personally, but loved their music and had been blessed by it in some way. One man told me as we walked along together on the trail that he was not a Mormon, but heard his wife and kids talking about what happened and he just had an overwhelming feeling that he should go and help. So even though he had never met Jon Schmidt, he was out searching for his daughter.
Monday David and I teamed up with one of David’s friends he met while on his mission. We decided to try to cover an area where we determined had not been searched as well as perhaps it should. Volunteers tend to follow the trail be not look took thoroughly enough off to the sides. We knew this would be our last day to search, and this caused my prayers to be even more sincere in expressing my desire to find Annie. We climbed to a scenic overlook because it seemed to us that it would attract Annie, who loved to find great views and scenic wonders. We had already searched thoroughly around the water falls, and it seemed logical to now go to the highest point on the trail to look out over the Columbia River below.
The view was indeed spectacular. I remember thinking how grateful I was to be there seeing the beauty, and sharing the experience with my son. If it were not for Annie I might have never gone to that place and seen the sights I was enjoying. Yet if only I could find her. Sadly, it was not to be. The day came to an end, and we were exhausted after another 15 miles or so of steep trails at a quick pace.
Annie went on a hike by herself on Sunday afternoon October 16. No one knew she was missing until Wednesday, October 19th. The search began in earnest on Friday the 21st and was called off by her family the following Wednesday, October 26th.
I had a two-day Wilderness First Aid course scheduled for the Rocky Mountain Search and Rescue Dog team this past Friday and Saturday, November 11 -12. On Monday I received a message telling me that most of the group would not be at the class because they would instead be in Oregon searching with the dogs for Annie. During the first day of the course, attended by other search and rescue groups and a few from Rocky Mountain, we learned that Annie was found.
She had apparently fallen on the slippery trail, perhaps after dark and in the rain. Her location was in a steep ravine that none of us could have ever safely gone into without equipment, even though we had passed nearby right on that trail.
Heavenly Father answered our prayers. We received the peace safety we were seeking, and the Schmidt family were also at peace. The hundreds of searchers also were blessed with peace and safety. David and I enjoyed a father and son experience we would have never had, and we were protected. Plus we were blessed with the beauty of the area, which was quite wonderful. The Spirit did not lead us to Annie, and now I know why. Heavenly Father did not lead us to Annie because He answered our prayer to help us stay safe.
Annie was not alive when we were searching for her, and there was no need for any of us to risk our lives to go into that ravine. Heavenly Father inspired the right people to ask for help from the search dogs, and the people with the necessary gear and training. Even though the search had been called off, spiritual promptings brought a resolution to the family, and healing can now be complete. I am grateful that Heavenly Father hears and answers my prayers, even though not always in the way I would like.
You too can help to #LIGHTtheWORLD