September 07, 2006

Colorado Missing Marine: Staged Disappearance?

Instead of sympathy for a potentially injured Marine, the story has turned to what was previously suspected--the Marine did not want to return to his duties--and led authorities on a wild goose chase near Denver (video):
BOULDER, Colo. -- After five days of searching to no avail, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office now believes that the Marine who was lost in the mountains was never missing and may have staged his disappearance.

Lance Hering disappeared just days before he was set to return to Iraq.

His friend, Steve Powers, told authorities that Hering fell and hit his head while both were rockclimbing on Tuesday, Aug. 29. Powers said he hiked out of Eldorado Canyon State Park to get help while Hering was told to remain where he was. When rescuers returned three hours later, Hering was nowhere to be found.

Powers, 20, was arrested Wednesday night after he admitted during police questioning that he made up the story about the hiking accident and helped Hering stage his disappearance, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office said.

"There were a number of inconsistencies in his story and as we pursued that with him in an extensive interview last night, he ultimately confessed that he and Mr. Hering had colluded in staging this whole event," Boulder County Sheriff's Lt. Phil West said.

Powers faces a misdemeanor charge of false reporting. However, the sheriff said he also plans to seek restitution for the tens of thousands of dollars expended in the search effort -- which was the largest search effort in Boulder County's recent history.
There could be many reasons for a Marine not to return to duty but in this case the authorities' suspicions seem to pinpoint the reason:
Also investigators thought it was suspicious that the repeated searches of the area where Hering was supposedly last seen, including several searches by canines, failed to turn up any evidence. And, when authorities learned that Hering had $2,000 cash with him and had discussed "disappearing" in the past, detectives grew concerned.

The motive for Hering's disappearance appears to be his reluctance to return to duty as a Marine, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office said. The 21-year-old had just returned from Iraq in July and was due back at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

"Essentially (Powers) was trying to keep (Hering) from having to return to service as a Marine," West said. "That's Powers' version. Powers has lied to us repeatedly, so we take what he says with a grain of salt."

Hering's whereabouts remain unknown, though Powers gave investigators and military official a number of leads that they are following up on. The sheriff said that they believe Hering is in another state, but they are not saying where.
Unfortunately, we had hoped and prayed for the Marine's safe return based on the fabricated story that he had been injured while hiking. If the story turns out as Powers admits, then Hering has let down his family, his rescuers (including veterans, ROTC, and other concerned community members), and his country.

Whatever his motivation for staging his disappearance, as a Marine he should have been forthright about his reasons. If his Dad truly had no knowledge of this plan--as he seems to have stated over and over in denying his son had gone AWOL--then his son has put him in a terrible place.

Then there is the cost:
"The appropriate charge that we filed against Mr. Powers is a misdemeanor and that doesn't go anywhere near toward accounting for the cost that these two put the taxpayers through. So the sheriff has already made an appeal to the district attorney to seek restitution from both of them as part of any plea considerations," West said.

West said the cost of the search has not been calculated yet but includes 7,000 man-hours, the use of a Denver police helicopter and other support costs such as fuel and additional deputies who were on the case.

"We are certainly a little embarrassed that we were duped. Angry," said West.

According to Marine Corps officials, Hering is currently classified as "unauthorized absent" because he left before officials approved of his request for leave. If he fails to return by Sept. 11, he faces potentially much more serious federal charges.

He currently faces local charges.
So now, regardless of motivation for disappearing, including anti-war sentiments, Hering faces a whole lot of questions, and a criminal record.



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