Police in Oregon are conducting only a "limited search" for a missing college freshman, whose family says is at serious risk after being inspired by a movie to enter the wilderness, but whom cops believe may have chosen to just "go off the grid for a while."
An abandoned SUV belonging to Johnathan Croom, an 18-year-old from Arizona, was found Friday in the town of Riddle, Ore. Croom was last seen around Aug. 16 after visiting a friend in Seattle. He was expected back in Arizona this weekend and begin college today.
Croom's parents are convinced their son was inspired by the 2007 film "Into the Wild," a true story about a young man who enters the Alaskan wilderness with limited skills and supplies, only to starve to death several months later.
"This is an 18-year-old boy who is trying to reenact a movie that doesn't end well," said Croom's father, David Croom, currently in Riddle to help look for his son. "If he entered the wilderness he is in way over his head. He does not have the skills for any of this."
His father said Croom sent a final text message last week to a friend, revealing he wanted to go "on an adventure."
Police, however, said Croom's activity before he went missing is not consistent with someone setting off for a wilderness adventure and is not in danger. More likely, cops said, Croom "wanted to check out for while."
"This is an 18-year-old man, an adult free to do what he wants," said Douglas County Sheriff's spokesman Dwes Hutson.
"It is not unheard of to not want to be found. We are doing some limited searches to make sure he's not in trouble or hurt. ... If he wanted to walk off, or check out of society, there's no law against that," Hutson said.
Croom left his car in the middle of town, steps from the police station, according to cops. "This isn't a wilderness area. He was last in the middle of the town of Riddle. He would have to hitchhike to get anywhere near real wilderness. There's just not a lot of searching to be done," Hutson said.
Hutson said a "handful" of officers are searching in town to make sure Croom "didn't fall and twist an ankle somewhere and needs help."
For now, the search is being conducted over land only, but Hutson said there was a chance police may soon search the area with a helicopter.
David Croom said he was disappointed with the police response and disagreed that it would be difficult to access deep wilderness from where his son was last seen.
"In a moment you can be in the wilderness from here. Who knows what might happen then," he said.