Kari Swenson: Survivor, Part V

For a summary on Kari Swenson's ordeal go here, or for other posts in the series, you can go here.


Why discuss such an old case?

Here are three observations as to why missing person/crime victim Kari Swenson's ordeal is relevant: 

1. Kari Exemplifies the Traits of a Survivor

Just because I am shot, does not mean I am going to die:  "If you get shot you die" is the biggest victimization fallacy created by television and movies. In reality, if you are shot, you are probably not going to die. You are more likely to die if you stop thinking and concede defeat.

Refuse to Quit: Kari was wounded and left to die in the wilderness. She crawled, pushed and pulled herself while looking for one of the rescuers' radios. She found a blanket that helped her body fight the onset of shock. Over four hours later, when authorities found the camp, she was still conscience and able to weakly call for help. She never gave up.

Be Creative: Kari made numerous attempts to help anyone tracking the kidnappers including dropping personal items, feigning exhaustion, and stomping her cleats to leave identifiable footprints.


2. On “Mountain Men”

As seemingly ludicrous as "mountain men" being responsible for an abduction seems, it did happen in this instance. Don and Dan Nichols, Kari's kidnappers, did not have the felonious criminal history that would have indicated that such a crime was in their plans.

Knowing history and then applying it to other abductions, hearing folks discuss "mountain men" as potential suspects in a case like the disappearance of then six-year-old Morgan Nick from Arkansas, does not seem as far-fetched.


3. School Shootings and Missing Persons

Former Sheriff Johnny France described a contentious meeting with Kari's family while authorities were still searching for the Nichols. France recalls being verbally blasted by Kari's father (Dr. Bob Swenson)—the victim’s family was angry that law enforcement had not initiated the ground search for Kari until the morning after she had been reported missing.

France explained that an evening search would have been dangerous for his personnel--especially since they used lots of volunteer searchers, but the family did not accept France's argument.

According to France, Kari’s family wanted nothing to do with the sheriff, and during the criminal trials never thanked him for his work in the case.*

The exchange reminded me of reading a law enforcement training text in the 1990s.

The author posed this question concerning a school shooting (from a responding officer’s perspective):

You and several officers arrive at a school and hear shots and screaming inside, what do you do?

The authors advised not to rush into the building but to wait and attempt to establish communications and gather additional intelligence. Then, an informed decision could be made as to what specialized units (SWAT, hostage negotiators, etc.) should be called so that entry could safely be made.

The authors argued that running into a school building could result in officers being shot—which further complicates the situation.

In sum, the authors recommended caution.

This is quite different from what the public demands from police in contemporary school shootings--entry is made into the school as soon as possible to try to save lives and prevent violence. Officers don’t wait for SWAT.

A similar transition was made in responding to missing persons.

Historically, police required citizens to wait a specific amount of time (e.g. 48 hours) before a missing persons report could even be filed. In most circumstances, investigations did not start until well after this mandated time.

Now it is more common to see authorities initiate investigations in the early stages of someone disappearing.

Would Sheriff France have started the ground search on the evening of Kari’s disappearance if the incident occurred today?

After authorities knew she went running on a path in the early afternoon, and found her car parked next to the trailhead, would authorities have pursued the missing persons case more aggressively, because that is what society now demands of law enforcement?

Certainly, the pressure to search immediately for a missing runner would be much greater in 2010 versus 1985—where, as with the response to school shootings, caution now takes a backseat to action.

I think it is a change for the better.

*Note: It is my understanding that the family’s anger was directed at France, and not other law enforcement involved. I will be reading the family’s perspective in a different book to get a better understanding as to their complaints about Sheriff France.


Previous posts in this series can be found here.


Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
I'm particularly interested in your historical perspective on how we handle disasters and crimes like 9/11 or school shootings.

We expect to learn things from them, but then we blame the operational personnel for not knowing them beforehand.

We assume that the style used this time by a criminal element is something that is a fact before the fact.

People do trend. We're used to thinking about this with fashion and automobiles, but the truth is they trend in everything. We seek novelty. Crooks learn from previous incidents just like LEOs do.

It's one thing to analyze for better performance. It's another thing entirely to wash historic incidents with knowledge that came after. I wish people would analyze--and not the opposite. This goes for medicine and other fields too.

Just my $.02.
Have a great day.
Very thought provoking!
Thank you,
Ann T.

maggsworld said...

KNowledge and lessons learned help people focus. Posts of this kind may supply knowledge that one day will rise up in someone's memory and help thm survive when they need it most. Thank you.

maggsworld said...

KNowledge and lessons learned help people focus. Posts of this kind may supply knowledge that one day will rise up in someone's memory and help thm survive when they need it most. Thank you.

Samantha VĂ©rant said...

Wow! What a survivor she was! I wonder where she gathered her courage from and how she kept her wits. I suppose something snaps in the brain for some of us and instincts kick in.

SuziCate said...

It is so easy for the public to judge actions after the fact and from a distance than being up close and involved. Just read today where a woman refused a police stop and drug the policeman with her car...he shot while being dragged and she was killed...the mother of the woman is down calling the police out for excessive means because the woman was only weilding a hammer. It seems she has forgotten that her daughter was evading police.

lifeshighway said...

Very insightful perspective on the Kari Swenson incident. I have been engrossed in your analysis. Keep up the good writing.

malone8 said...

People like Kari Swenson teach others that fear can be overcome in a dangerous situation.

Stephanie Faris said...

We always hope we'll never be in that situation but we still need to be prepared just in case...

Nikole Hahn said...

It seems to me a car parked next to a trailhead and the family reporting that person missing would equate to an immediate search.

Police have an intense job. Whatever they do will be considered wrong either by a family group or the media.

Helen Ginger said...

I think she was very brave and resourceful and kept her head about her.

You're right about the changes in procedure over the years - especially if a child is involved.

BobKat said...

Awesome post!

I think it's difficult for people not in the know of law enforcement to "see things".This is especially true when "family" are the first to get scrutinized. That aside, I think you've mentioned in a previous post how different law enforce is, depending upon where you're at.

Citizens have a general attitude also, again depending. I witnessed first hand the effects on a family when their teenage daughter goes missing.

You've also told me, law enforcement isn't what it was in the 70's... when I came of age.

Considering the technology available today for police, infrared imagery, night goggles... I would expect these days a search would/should be conduct as in Kari's case. Back then, probably not. A rescuer was killed, in broad daylight.

Excellent post, enjoyed that.

You're correct of course about gunshot wounds. I have a medical certificate from which I learned all too often people who are shot will go into shock, as do most accident victims. The difference is, the mind projects the thought of a gunshot wound with death, and fear literally kills the person.


J. J. in Phila said...

I think the initial police response is interesting, but would note that, in other cases, the lesson has not been learned.


WomanHonorThyself said...

People do trend. We're used to thinking about this with fashion and automobiles, but the truth is they trend in everything. We seek novelty. Crooks learn from previous incidents just like LEOs do. ..I agree with this sentiment as well...a world without crime..now thats a vision Slam..:)

Miss Caitlin S. said...

Very interesting because I had no idea about any of this and never heard about her or her case. You bring up a great point regarding getting shot and the ability to get through it. I guess I always believe that a shot is a death sentence. You're right that there's a lot a survivor can do to maintain clarity of mind and the will to continue their fight to live. You're also smart to point out how this case can be applicable to the issues we currently face.

Stephen Tremp said...

This is a very informative post. I've heard that most shooting victims do not die, but my concern is if they do not receive medical attention quickly they go into shock and this expedites death. It is amazing to hear stories of survival and the will people have to survive against seemingly insurmountable odds.

ladyfi said...

You're right - it's far more likely that the cops would look for a missing person much earlier these days. A sad reflection on modern times perhaps...

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Great summary. Loved the historical perspective. And what a lesson to be learned. Don't give up fighting. It could be the difference between life and death.

kcinnova said...

While I think that family and loved ones will never think a search was started soon enough, or went on long enough, or was good enough (because what is truly good enough for those whom we love?), common sense and precedence has to be used.
This has been a fascinating series. Thank you for bringing it to us.

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