Maureen Leianuhea “Anu” Kelly, 19, from Vancouver, Washington, was with a group of friends at Canyon Creek Campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Cougar, Washington on Sunday, June 9, 2013.

She left them around 5 pm, saying she was going on a “spiritual quest” and would return by midnight. She took off her shoes and clothes and was wearing only a pack around her waist that contained knives, matches, and a compass when she left.

She failed to return that evening, and her friends reported her missing in the early hours of June 10. She was never seen again. Was this just a case of misadventure in the forest, self-harm, or foul play?

Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Canyon Creek Campground

Gifford Pinchot National Forest is located in southern Washington and has an area of 1.32 million acres (5300 km2), extending 116 km along the western slopes of Cascade Range from Mount Rainier National Park to the Columbia River.

It is on the crest of the South Cascades of Washington State, spread out over broad, old-growth forests, high mountain meadows, several glaciers, and numerous volcanic peaks. The forest’s highest point is at 12,276 ft. at the top of Mount Adams, the second tallest volcano in the state after Rainier. Often abbreviated GPNF on maps and in texts, it includes the 110,000-acre (450 km2) Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, established by Congress in 1982.

The Canyon Creek Campground in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest is described as a small, lightly used campground tucked into dense forest adjacent to Canyon Creek. Eight campsites are available for tent camping only with a table and fire ring.

To get there, “From Chelatchie on Highway 503, travel east on Road 54, right on Road 53, left on 3701, about 1/4 mile turn down the next road to the left. There is no site sign marking the campground entrance. Do not continue up road 3701. It is not maintained. It is narrow and brushy.”

Who was Maureen “Anu” Kelly?

Maureen Leianuhea “Anu” Kelly was born on September 26, 1993, with a pacific islander heritage. She had spoken to friends and family for some time about going on a “spiritual quest” before her disappearance.

She was raised by a single mother, Mapuana, in Vancouver, Washington. Known as Anu to her friends, she graduated from Lewis and Clark High School and was an aspiring singer and songwriter, often posting ukulele videos on YouTube.

Cheri Kaupu, her half-sister, described her as “a very laid-back, carefree girl” and “an affectionate person”. Anu had called her shortly before heading into the forest to ask if she could borrow camping gear. A friend of Kelly’s, Amanda Ziegler, stated that she was not surprised Kelly had gone into the forest, though she was concerned by Kelly entering the woods alone and without any clothing.

The search for Maureen Kelly

The Skamania County Sheriff’s Department initiated a one-week-long search. Undersheriff Dave Cox said, “She had talked about doing this spiritual quest for evidently quite some time. The folks that she was with, they felt that this was something she needed to do. It’s a rough remote area with a lot of timber and brush. It’s going to be a tough go for her, especially with no shoes.”

While it was “a little bit unusual” for a 19-year-old to leave a campsite nude, apart from carrying a fanny pack, Cox said there was no indication that she was on drugs at the time of her disappearance.

The forest area where she was last seen, Canyon Creek, is steep and mountainous with heavy timber and brush, and Sharon Ward of Pacific Crest Search Dogs said, “Where she entered the creek is amazingly steep. It’s called Canyon Creek Campground for a reason It’s very, very steep. So how she got down there barefoot is a wonder. And how she came up out of the bottom is a wonder”.

Search teams determined she crossed Canyon Creek and headed north, climbing upwards towards Forest Service 54, but they lost the trail after that. K-9 units were reportedly unable to pick up a trace.

Cox said the weather has interfered with the search. A thick cloud covering prevented helicopters from scanning the Canyon Creek area for signs of Anu. This limited rescue crews to search on land only. He said, that because there’s so much underbrush, “A searcher could literally walk right on top of somebody if they’re rolled under a log” and never know it.

The official search was suspended at 6 pm on June 15, 2013. The final day’s search involved 75 volunteers covering four square miles of challenging terrain.

What happened to Maureen Anu Kelly?

Investigators believe it’s likely Anu died in a mishap in the wilderness, but her body has never been found, and her case remains unsolved.

Although the weather on the day she disappeared was mild, temperatures that night dipped into the forties with some light rain so that she could have quickly succumbed to exposure without any clothes.

The official search was suspended after just two days. It resumed briefly after her family and friends protested, but to no avail. Despite the best efforts of official search and rescue teams and many volunteers, the search for Kelly turned up nothing.

As of February 2024, ten years on, neither Anu nor her belongings have been found.

Although the authorities believe she succumbed to a fall or exposure, her family and friends have a different theory. Her friend Yazmin said, “She may not want to be found.”

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