Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blue Ridge Parkway Search Ends

A mulit-day search for a missing man from Ohio ended when his body was found in Rock Castle Gorge on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.  The cause of death is believed to be suicide by gunshot.  Below is the press release from the National Park Service.

Muti-day Search in Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area, VA

A search that began on April 22nd in the Rock Castle Gorge Recreation Area of the Parkway, in Patrick County, VA, was concluded on the 27th when the body of Cincinnati, OH resident Ernest G. Brooker was located. He had apparently committed suicide using a firearm.

The search began when Brooker's car was noticed by a park employee at the trailhead near the Rocky Knob Cabins on April 18th and again on April 22nd.  After a hasty search by park rangers was unsuccessful, search resources were activated through Virginia Department of Emergency Management and a Type III incident team was formed to conduct an expanded operation, Patrick County Sheriff's Office was responsible for the related investigation.

During operations on April 23rd and 24th searchers located numerous weapons and other items placed in the gorge, apparently by Brooker, that included knives, daggers, nunchucks, fighting sticks, a holster for a pistol, parrot feathers and clothing laid out in an organized, and what appeared to be, ritualistic, manner. On the 23rd civilian searchers were removed from the operation until law enforcement teams from Patrick County, Virginia State Police and NPS were able to check the area on the 24th. Civilian searchers from Commonwealth of Virginia SAR; Angle SAR; SAR Tracking Institute; Carroll County SAR; Rockingham County- Augusta SAR; Black Diamond SAR; Triad SAR; Tidewater SAR; SARTI; and Intermont-Bristol SAR, Vesta Rescue Squad, Ararat and Woolwine Fire Departments, and the Civil Air Patrol (aircraft utilized to provide radio communication between teams and the command post, located at the Parkway’s Rocky Knob maintenance area), as well as rangers from Shenandoah NP, New River Gorge NSR, C&O Canal, other districts of the Parkway as well as a canine team from NCR, returned to the search on the 25th. The body of Mr. Brooker was located in a Rhododendron thicket on a private inholding within the gorge by a canine and handler from Dogs East Search and Rescue, working a task with an NPS search team.

Mr. Brooker had stayed in a motel in Meadows of Dan for several days after he arrived in the area on the 13th of April and had been seen by neighbors in the area of the gorge over several days ending the 18th. Ernest Brooker had no known friends or relatives after the death of his wife in January of 2009, which created a challenge for search managers and investigators throughout the incident. Ernest Brooker was 66 years old.

The park wishes to thank all of the SAR organizations and team members that worked diligently in adverse weather, steep terrain and heavy vegetation to conduct the search. The park is fortunate to have a strong relationship with these organizations built over the years by conducting interagency training and SAR exercises in this and other areas of Southern Virginia within the park.

While the search was underway a running marathon was held on park roads within the same district (Roanoke, VA), which, along with the search and normal operational requirements, heavily taxed the parkway's ranger resources.

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