Missing American traveller's kin rue slow pace of search

Updated: Oct 26, 2016, 20:47 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Family and friends of 35-year-old Justin Alexander Shetler, who was last seen on September 3 trekking through the Parvati valley in Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh, are peeved at the slow pace of search for the American national


Justin Shetler

Family and friends of Justin Alexander Shetler (35), who was last seen on September 3 trekking through the Parvati valley in Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh, are peeved at the slow pace of search for the American national.

mid-day had on October 24 highlighted how Shetler — a social worker and travel writer — had gone missing during his trek and the prime suspect, sadhu Satyanarayan Rawat who accompanied Shetler on the trek, allegedly committed suicide in police lock-up weeks later. (Read full story)

mid-day’s October 24 report
mid-day’s October 24 report

Shetler’s mother, Suzie Reeb, and close family friend Jonathan Skeels reached Manali from California, USA, on October 3. Initially, they mounted a search operation on their own, with the help of local trekkers, but later got the US Embassy in Delhi to seek the Himachal government’s help.

Ill-equipped
Speaking to mid-day from Manali, Skeels said although the authorities have been helpful, they are crippled by the lack of adequate resources, like long-range wireless radios to communicate with the search team, sniffer dogs and helicopters. He claimed that the family had to charter a chopper on its own to scour the Parvati valley.

Shetler’s mother, Suzie Reeb, and friend Jonathan Skeels have been in Manali since October 3
Shetler’s mother, Suzie Reeb, and friend Jonathan Skeels (below) have been in Manali since October 3

“Justin’s belongings were found a week ago. A forensic team was to arrive at that site on October 23, but there is still no sight of it. A chopper was secured on the insistence of the US Embassy. We struggled to even convince the CM (Virbhadra Singh) and the state to support the search operation… There is no sense of urgency,” he alleged.

He said the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the intelligence and security service of the US, have offered to help with the search, but jurisdiction issues prevent it from getting on the ground in India.

Jonathan Skeels

He said on October 24, the Kullu police in Himachal hired a private search team to scour the Parvati river.

Last contact in Aug
Skeels revealed that Shetler last contacted his family in late August, after spending two weeks living in the caves of Khirganga (whose hot springs are must-visit sites for trekkers). “He spoke at length with family and friends about the trek he was to undertake and his companion (Rawat). He also wrote about it in his social media posts.”

Shetler was first reported missing by a fellow traveller and French national, Christopher Lee. “When the baba returned alone, Christopher asked him about Justin,” said Skeels. Rawat’s evasive replies set off alarm bells. Lee got in touch with Shetler’s family on Facebook and alerted them.

Skeels also raised concerns over Rawat’s custodial death and hoped that porter Anil Singh, who had accompanied Shelter and the sadhu, will be able to yield crucial leads.

Meanwhile, in an email exchange with mid-day from California, Linda Borini, a close friend of Shetler, said she had expressed her reservation over interactions with so-called holy men in her last video chat with the adventurer on August 20. “Justin seemed confident about this baba. So, I supported him in his spiritual journey.”

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