By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
A child psychologist and a family from Oregon believe it was divine providence that brought them together in the woods of Del Norte County last week, when the spectre of finding a corpse along a hiking trail shook their lives.
The Wright family, from Hillsboro, Ore., was on their last day of a 10-day vacation when they decided to take a hike on the Boy Scout Trail in Jedediah Smith State Park Aug. 29.
"A forest ranger told us it was really pretty on the Boy Scout Trail so we wanted to go on this trail," said Barbara Wright. "I had made some sandwiches, and we sat and ate lunch, before we started hiking up."
About a mile and a half up, and about 25 feet from the trail, the family's serenity was shattered.
"When you go to a funeral home you'd expect to see a body," said Barbara Wright. "But we were out in the country, where it's beautiful, peaceful and gorgeous, then you hear this bone-chilling scream."
The scream came from 15-year-old Erik Wright, who had gone off the trail a few yards.
"There were some bushes pushed off to the side and there was some plastic right there," said Erik Wright. "So I started looking around and I saw the body. I didn't want to look at it a lot. It was really hard for me."
"He screamed when he found her. I thought he was being eaten by a bear," said Barbara Wright. "He yelled, Mommy, Mommy, come back!'"
Erik Wright was visibly shaken. He was pale, trembling, and scared to death, said his mother.
"He said he found a body back there. I said No, you're mistaken. It must be a mannequin or something.' But he kept insisting. So my husband went to take a look. He came back and said Yes, there's a body of a woman wrapped in plastic,'" said Barbara Wright.
Barbara Wright said her heart sank and chills went down her spine upon hearing this description.
"A lady wrapped in plastic? I thought, Oh my God, she's been murdered,' because people just don't wrap themselves up in plastic," Barbara Wright said.
According to Captain Doug Plack of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department, it is now believed the plastic had fallen or had blown over the body.
The department currently does not consider foul play as being involved in the still unidentified woman's death. But at the time of the discovery, the family, and authorities were not as certain.
Erik Wright had a particularly difficult time dealing with the experience, but fate intervened on his behalf.
"What are the odds that I would be coming down the trail a person who specializes in child trauma?" asked Daniel Dodgen of Washington D.C., who does psychological research on children for the White House and Congress. "I don't know, but you'd think it was divine providence."
Dodgen said he had just attended a seminar in San Francisco, so he decided to go to Brookings to visit his brother Patrick for a while.
"My brother and I were hiking along, catching up, when we saw the mother and all the younger children somewhat excited and trying to get help," Dodgen said.
Patrick Dodgen, a physical therapist in Crescent City, was familiar with the area so he volunteered to get help.
Daniel Dodgen, on the other hand, said he then did what came naturally to him, and that was to counsel Erik Wright.
"The family was upset, which is understandable since they just witnessed something pretty upsetting which would be upsetting for a person of any age," Dodgen said. "But Erik took the brunt of the situation."
Barbara Wright said Dodgen's presence was a tremendous help. "He was very comforting to my son and my husband. Just imagine, he just happened to be on the trail at the same time. He told me, If Erik ever has any problems with this to call me and let me know.'"
Dodgen said his words of comfort for the boy were basically those of common sense and reassurance.
"I tried to help him see that any reaction he was having was a normal reaction, like numbness, crying, and shaking. It was a normal reaction to a very abnormal situation," Dodgen said.
"He stayed with me for a while," said Erik Wright. "He really helped me out a lot."
Barbara Wright said that although Dodgen's presence was a blessing, the episode will stay with the family for a long time.
"Why did we have to be the people who found her? Why did we go there and take that last hike? I suppose some questions will never be answered," she said. "The whole thing is so sad. I just keep thinking there's a family out there wondering where she is."
The woman was found without identification, according to Plack. The sheriff's office described her as approximately 5 feet 6 inches tall, shoulder-length brown hair, thinly built, and between her mid-30s and mid-40s in age.
Plack said the sheriff's office will probably release a sketch later this week if she still is not identified.
Anyone knowing of a person who fits the woman's description and is missing or overdue can contact Plack at 464-4191, extension 238.