On October 1, two hikers traversed a bluff about 100 anxiety beneath the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. They were on what’s accepted as a amusing trail, a path that is not maintained or accustomed by the Civic Esplanade Account but is created over time by visitors as they footfall off accustomed routes. This accurate amusing aisle runs beneath the Trailview 2 Overlook, one of the park’s best accepted destinations. On a bright day, you can see the abounding amplitude of the coulee from the overlook, including the allegorical Bright Angel Trail, which stitches its way six afar from the rim down to the Colorado River.
As the two hikers fabricated their way about the abject of the cliff, they came beyond the bodies of a brace in what esplanade agent Kari Cobb calls “close proximity” to one another. Neither of the asleep agitated any identification with them, nor was there any affirmation that they had brought a backpack, water, or added supplies. It wasn’t bright how continued they had been asleep or how they had died.
In the canicule that followed, a few of those questions would be answered. The asleep individuals were articular as Garret Bonkowski, 25, and Jessica Bartz, 22, both from Peoria, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. The brace had been recorded entering the esplanade at about 3:30 p.m. on September 18, apparently as allotment of an continued alley cruise they were demography as they relocated to Bartz’s built-in Iowa. Her car was activate anchored in a appointed lot a the overlook.
Everything abroad about what brought Bonkowski and Bartz to the Grand Canyon—and more importantly, how it is that they died on this trail—remains a mystery. And that’s proving acutely arresting for their friends, family, and esplanade officials.
Each year approximately six actor bodies appointment the Grand Canyon. That’s about 20,000 a day. The cutting majority of them—about 90 percent, Cobb estimates—visit the South Rim. From aurora to sunset, bout and shuttle buses discharge cartage at the Trailview Overlook every 15 minutes. The discount is additionally an accessible airing from the park’s company centermost and capital village. If any of the bags of bodies who visited the discount that day saw Bonkowski and Bartz, they haven’t yet announced up, admitting again calls for advice from the Civic Esplanade Service.
“We accept no abstraction what happened to them,” says Cobb.
Presumably, she says, the brace fell to their deaths. The Trailview Overlook is allotment of a paved arrangement of walkways. There’s a athletic metal guardrail advised to accumulate bodies from falling. Although it’s prohibited, visitors sometimes hop over the abuse to get bigger angle or clutter bottomward to the top of the bluff to sit or pose for pictures.
Bartz and Bonkowski hiking in Sedona, Arizona in 2017 (Courtesy Gary Bonkowski/Facebook)
Could Bonkowksi and Bartz accept approved to do the same? Did she activate to tumble and he fabricated a baleful attack to save her? Or was it article added adverse or sinister? The Esplanade Account hasn’t disqualified out abhorrent comedy or that a abomination may accept occurred.
Certainly, accidents appear in the park. Of the 19 fatalities aftermost year, eight were disqualified accidental. One included a jailbait who absent his basement on some snow and ice a the South Kaibab Trailhead. Addition included a middle-aged man who apparently approved to retrieve his hat as it blew toward a precipice. In July, visitors at the South Rim’s Mather Point watched with abhorrence as a 24-year-old assistant from Illinois climbed over the rail, intent on landing aloof on the added side; instead he fell 500 anxiety to his death. (And this anniversary in Yosemite, addition civic esplanade with aerial overlooks, a brace plunged to their deaths from Taft Point. The Esplanade Account hasn’t appear their names and is investigating the account of the fall.)
Each afterlife is acutely tragic. But above-mentioned deaths in the Grand Coulee had assemblage able to blab what had happened. And that offered at atomic a little cease for ancestors and friends.
Brian Bartz, Jessica’s father, is seeking some of that for himself. What capacity are accepted of her death, and Bonkowski’s, he says, aloof don’t add up. “We don’t accept this is a simple case of two bodies falling off a cliff,” he says.
He says that his babe would consistently deathwatch up afore aurora to set out for a day in the mountains. She was a amenable hiker, and he’d taken her on wilderness trips. She was a motivated adolescent woman aflame about life. “She had a lot of dreams and affairs for the future,” he says. “She capital to go places.”
Sally Liddicoat, Jessica’s acquaintance and above employer, agrees. Two year ago, Bartz abounding Liddicoat’s absolute acreage academy in Phoenix and became like a babe to Liddicoat. She describes Bartz as “always happy, consistently upbeat,” alike aback she was alive two jobs and demography courses. On an employee-orientation form, Bartz listed Reese’s Pieces, tennis, and the blush amethyst as some of her admired things.
Jennifer Follis and Gary Bonkowski, Garret’s parents, say they appetite answers as well. They accede on the appearance of their son. He was a abstracted thinker, they say: self-taught in art and metaphysics, he read acutely about bogus intelligence, spirituality, and existentialism. For Garret, they say, the canyons and mountains of Arizona were a leveling abode to head when he bare renewal.
Bartz and Bonkowski began dating two years ago and confused in calm anon thereafter. Bartz waited tables and formed at a administration abundance while she advised for her absolute acreage license; Bonkowski was teaching himself computer programming. Aftermost spring, aback money got tight, they confused in with Follis. But anybody agreed it was temporary. Bonkowski had been talking about affective about different. He aboriginal anticipation about the Bay Area, and again said he had a job anticipation in Florida. In May, Liddicoat began allowance Bartz amount out how she could assignment in Florida in absolute estate. But in July, Bartz chock-full abiding her employer’s texts and calls. Liddicoat absurd that she was lying on a bank about in the Sunshine State, accomplishing what blessed 22-year-olds do. She cautiously removed Bartz from her agents roster.
Meanwhile, Bartz and Bonkowski both told their parents that his job action in Florida had collapsed through. Afterwards that the brace fabricated affairs to move to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, together, but those affairs became unclear, as both Follis and Brian Bartz cite that Jessica and Garret’s accord had become rocky. What is bright is that the brace larboard Follis’s abode the black of September 17. That was the aftermost time any of their parents heard from them. That wasn’t uncommon, they all agree. According to his father, Garret had consistently been a bit of a wanderer—the affectionate of guy who let you apperceive he was demography a backpacking cruise afterwards he had finished.
“He was an adventurer,” says Gary Bonkowski. “He was consistently activity to do his affair and chase his heart, and you’d maybe get a argument a few canicule later.”
Bartz was the aforementioned way. She confused to Arizona afterwards aerial school, aflame about starting a new life. She wasn’t consistently abundant about blockage in blow with association aback home. Neither she nor Bonkowski was the blazon to consistently log the capacity of their lives on amusing media.
But they were both acutely able-bodied loved. On October 13, added than 60 bodies abounding a canonizing account for Bonkowski at the Church of Latter Day Saints in Glendale, Arizona. This week, Bartz’s accompany and above coworkers got calm in Arizona for a commemorative banquet a the restaurant area she formed part-time. On November 3, her ancestors will host a canonizing account for her in Iowa.
In the meantime, the Civic Esplanade Account Investigative Account Branch (ISB) is alive to break the case. Brian Bartz is hopeful that the medical examiner’s report, due to be appear aing month, will afford ablaze on what happened. It could action important clues about how and why the brace fell. It will accommodate a abounding toxicology assay and capacity about the injuries abiding by Bartz and Bonkowski and could advice beef out the anecdotal of their deaths and announce whether a abomination was committed.
The ISB will affair its own report, says Cobb. Its aim is to actuate the attributes of Bartz and Bonkowski’s death. While it’s attenuate for two bodies to die calm of adventitious causes in the park, it does happen. Aftermost year a grandmother and grandson were both swept abroad afterwards losing their basement while bridge a brook there. Of the actual 17 deaths aftermost year, six were disqualified suicides. A murder-suicide hasn’t been recorded in the esplanade back 2011.
To accomplish advance on the case of Bartz and Bonkowski, Cobb says, the esplanade needs assemblage to appear forward. “Right now we actually accept annihilation to go on,” she says.
Anyone with advice that could advice board is actuality asked to alarm or argument 888-653-0009. Advice can additionally be submitted online at nps.gov/ISB or by e-mail at [email protected]
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