Few in Boise last Thursday knew Joshua Dundon and his daughters, Madison and Jaylynn, were missing. But a Nevada couple’s hike in the hills near their home ended up the key to solving their disappearance.
Lester and Kathy Porter encountered a truck on fire; a strange man hidden in brush; a crying child. The hike ended with a quick run down a mountain to alert firefighters.
Kathy, a high school secretary with two grown daughters, couldn’t get the bizarre incident out of her mind. On Sunday night, a friend sent her a missing persons report out of Boise about Dundon, 29, and his daughters.
It described a pickup truck that matched the one the Porters saw. They knew the burning pickup had Idaho plates.
“Looking at Joshua [on the missing persons flier], we thought this could be the guy in the pickup,” she said. They alerted the Eureka County Sheriff’s Office — and helped save two children left in the cold, high-altitude desert.
Dundon is now held on $5 million bond, charged with two counts of felony child custodial interference.
His daughters, Jaylynn, 6, and Madison, 7, have returned to Boise, where they were reunited with family at a local hospital, police said. They are in stable condition but are expected to remain at the hospital for at least a few days.
Their family has asked for privacy, but in a Tuesday afternoon statement through police, thanked the community for sharing information during the search and for its prayers.
“We were thrilled with the news that they had been found. It was a scary situation there,” said Haley Williams, a spokeswoman for the Boise Police Department.
The search for the family is truly a story of community — in particular, that of a rural Nevada county about 350 miles from Boise by road. Authorities say the Porters and other residents played key roles in rescuing the girls before the situation turned worse.
Pickup on fire
It was Thursday, one day after police say Joshua Dundon checked his girls out of their elementary school and disappeared.
As the Porters walked along the road to Richmond Spring, southeast of Eureka, a silver pickup drove past them. The driver slowed while passing the couple and their dogs, then continued up a steep hill to the spring.
Lester Porter made it up the hill first. When he got there Lester heard a man and a child talking and a vehicle running. Because of the thick brush, “he had no idea my husband was there,” Kathy Porter said.
Her husband turned back and went to meet Kathy so they could walk up together.
“As we got closer, the pickup started to rev really, really high,” Kathy said. “We stepped into a little clearing and the pickup suddenly went in reverse in front of us at a pretty high rate of speed. … No one was in the vehicle and the cab of the pickup was on fire.”
The flaming truck hit some rocks and then stopped.
The couple looked around, but could not see anyone.
“My husband hollered, ‘Hey are you OK?’
“A man stuck his head out of some brush and said, ‘Yea, I’m OK.’ ”
The man’s demeanor set off alarm bells for the Porters. “He was just way too calm, the way he said it. We immediately knew something was wrong,” Kathy said.
The couple decided to go call for help.
“As I turned to leave, I could hear a little kid start to cry softly,” she said. She saw the man turn toward the child, whom she could not see, and say, “‘Sssh, it’s OK.’ Again, just real calmly.”
The Porters did not have their cellphones, so they ran down the hill as quickly as they could to notify authorities. Just as they got to the bottom of the hill, the town’s fire alarm went off and the volunteer fire department raced up the hill to put out the truck fire. By the time the firefighters were done, it was too dark to go searching for the man.
Four days later, the man, Joshua Dundon, walked out from the other side of Richmond Mountain. He was alone, barefoot, cold and thirsty.
Dundon seeks help
In that time, Joshua and the girls had been reported missing on Friday. Boise police issued a public call for help Saturday.
Eureka County Sheriff Keith Logan has headed local law enforcement for two years. He has 10 sworn staff to cover 4,200 square miles, and another four unfilled positions due to an inability to find qualified candidates.
After Thursday’s fire, his team searched for any sign the people the Porters saw. Both the couple and the first responding officer had heard gunshots, and the initial ground search turned up a gun — but it was traced to someone who purchased it in Boise, then died in Orange County, Calif., on May 2. A gun range is nearby and the sound of bullets wasn’t immediately unusual.
Meanwhile, investigators immediately worked to determine the owner of the truck.
Deputies sent out “teletypes” to six or seven states, asking if they knew of any cases of missing vehicles that were 2001-2006 pickups, Logan said. That didn’t lead anywhere. The license plates and the VIN number were melted.
Then came the Porters’ tip about the missing Boise family. The couple was instrumental in understanding the mystery, Logan said.
“We started making calls every which way,” Logan said of the Boise lead.
Over the weekend, sheriff’s officials were made aware of another VIN on the top of the truck’s frame, underneath the bed. They took the bed off Monday morning. The last eight digits were visible — and matched records for Dundon.
Idaho authorities had an Amber Alert out by early Monday afternoon.
Washoe County, Nev., contributed a helicopter for an aerial search Sunday. Logan organized an unsuccessful ground search Monday, and was planning another for Tuesday. The FBI offered logistical help.
Then Dundon turned up early Monday evening at a 1,100-acre ranch about 5 miles east of Eureka, in cut-off sweats and wearing a hoodie with no shirt underneath. Thirsty, hungry and frail, Dundon asked retired rancher Jim Baumann for help.
Baumann’s wife, Vera, was inside the house — calling the Sheriff’s Office to alert them that she believed the man wanted in connection with the Amber Alert was on her property. She held a 12-gauge shotgun at the ready.
“I didn’t have a shell in, but it only takes a second, and I can use it,” said Vera Baumann, a 69-year-old former longtime Eureka County deputy clerk/treasurer.
Jim told Dundon that his wife would make him a sandwich, then went inside to tell Vera he was sure the shivering stranger was the wanted Boise man. She called 911 to update authorities, who arrived soon after. Dundon did not resist arrest. He wasn’t armed with a gun, but he was found to have a knife, the sheriff said.
Vera made Dundon some hot coffee and soup while authorities pressed him for answers about where his children were.
“He was shaking so hard,” Vera Baumann recalled.
Logan said he was trying to get all the information he could from Dundon before dozens of searchers headed into the mountains to find the girls, who had already endured four nights of freezing temperatures.
“He was handcuffed. He was very cold and malnourished,” Logan said. “I needed to do anything I could do to get his trust and find that exact location. If that meant feeding him soup, then I’m in.”
Logan said Dundon thanked him as he was loaded into an ambulance. The sheriff and about 50 people from various local and state agencies, as well as the Baumanns and their extended family, then headed into the mountains on foot, on horseback, on ATVs.
Searching in rain, rescuers found the girls under a tree at about 7 p.m., roughly 90 minutes after Dundon was apprehended at the ranch. Baumann said her ranch is at about 6,500 feet, and the girls were found in even higher terrain. They were less than 2 miles from where the pickup was burned, though authorities are unsure of how far they actually traveled over the four nights they were out there.
The girls were also reportedly shoeless, and they were not in clothing appropriate for the wet, freezing temperatures on the mountain. They were carried out of the rough terrain, Logan said, and examined by EMS personnel before being flown to Boise for treatment.
Logan lauded Madison and Jaylynn as “incredibly strong” and said they “showed great courage to survive in the conditions they faced.”
“We found them close to sunset,” Logan said. “The sun came from behind the clouds to give us a nice little glowing view. When I called the detectives [in Boise], we finally had something good to report.”
Dundon told the sheriff and the Baumanns that he didn’t have any family, friends or other connections in west-central Nevada. It remains unclear why he and the girls ended up there.
Dundon felt like he’d been to the area before, and felt he recognized the trees, Logan said.
“He said he feared for his life, and that’s why he took the girls and ran,” Vera Baumann said.
Also uncertain was his plan. Investigators believe he set out on foot with his girls after burning the truck, reportedly ditching his shoes in an effort to change or hide his tracks.
“His Plan B was not very thought-out,” Logan said. “He had no exit plan. He had no other vehicles, no other transportation, no plan.”
The sheriff said Dundon was carrying at least three firearms and other weapons, including knives and machetes. Those were recovered during the ground search, Logan said, along with apparent drug paraphernalia that had not yet been tested Tuesday.
It’s unclear what kind of outdoor gear and provisions Dundon had with him.
“He told me he dug a hole around a tree, and they slept down a hole,” Vera Baumann said. Dundon told her that he recognized that they were in trouble, and that’s why he left them to get help.
His absence in Boise meant he missed a family intake screening scheduled for Friday in an ongoing custody/child support dispute. The girls’ mother filed the case in January, and Dundon later filed a counterclaim. As the case proceeded, they had joint custody of the girls, according to Boise police.
Dundon was taken Monday night to a hospital for treatment. After he’s released, he’s expected to be booked into the Washoe County Jail in Reno, Williams said.
It’s unclear how soon he could be extradited to Idaho, said Williams, the BPD spokeswoman. Nevada authorities could seek various charges there, including child abuse and endangerment or a federal arson charge (the pickup burned on Bureau of Land Management land).
“Prosecutors will probably work out all the rest of the details between who charges and what crimes happened where,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of things the prosecutors’ offices ... still have to work out.”
Kristin Rodine contributed.
Company’s woes change process for Idaho Amber Alerts
Previously, the Idaho State Police have relied on an Arizona company to handle the actual sending of an Amber Alert.
However, that company, Alert GPS Holdings of Scottsdale, Ariz., declared bankruptcy earlier this year and went out of business.
So on Monday, the ISP sent out the alert on Jaylynn, Madison and their father using their own software program loaded with recipients’ cellphone and email addresses. The system is typically used for sending out news releases.
“It really wasn’t a problem getting it out. It was just a new process,” said Dawn Peck, manager of the ISP’s Bureau of Criminal Identification. “It was our first time using it for that purpose.”
As part of bankruptcy procedings, Alert GPS has been bought by another company, Location Based Holdings. The ISP will decide whether to contract with that company to provide Amber Alerts.
— John Sowell