Heddy Isaacson — Misty Falls Chronicle Staff Reporter
On Tuesday evening, authorities called off the search for two Columbia Technical College students who disappeared while hiking in the woods north of campus. Captain Arle Buckman of the National Park Service cited “irrefutable evidence” that the students had been taken by a roving band of maenads as the reason for the suspension.
Amber Carlson, 19, and Gina Traini, 21, were last seen in the parking lot of Dover Hall on Saturday morning at 8:30 am. They told friends that they planned to spend the day hiking and cataloging scat samples in the Dennison Woods region of Misty Falls National Park. Traini, a junior in the college’s zoology program, was studying the effects of the passage of a party of Amnisiades through the region five years ago.
“We estimate that the Amnisiades’ hunt took some 30% of the deer and moose populations, and upwards of 50% of the rabbit and small rodent populations,” explains Dr. Ethan Haffords. He served as Traini’s advisor. “Gina was trying to figure out how that affected the local carnivores — especially the wolves and big cats — having their food source so badly depleted. It’s really a shame. And strange. Amnisiades should know better. They’re nymphs, for crying out loud. They, better than anyone, should understand the effect of wiping out so much of a bioregion’s herbivore population.”
According to friends and classmates, Amber was dedicated to helping Gina with her research.
“She was a total wilderness nut,” explains her roommate, Kara Douglass. “Every minute that she could, she spent outside. She didn’t go home during breaks. She went camping.”
According to her advisor, Dr. Marcus Poang of the Shamanic Studies Department, Carlson was an excellent and dedicated student. “She was pursuing dual degrees in herbalism and entheogenics. Her dream was to go to work with the Department of Health and set up shop in an inner city. Detroit or Chicago. Start a garden and use her skills to help heal kids traumatized by violence, bring peace to neighborhoods torn apart by gangs. She would have done it, too. She would have been great at it.”
When Carlson and Traini did not return Saturday evening, Douglass assumed they had decided to camp overnight.
“They did that all the time,” she explains. “Say they were going out for the day and stay the whole weekend.”
When the students failed to appear for classes Monday morning, Douglass attempted to reach them by cell phone. When several phone calls went unanswered, and Carlson and Traini failed to return by Monday evening, Douglass alerted campus authorities and the National Park Service.
According to Captain Buckman, a preliminary search Monday evening located Traini’s car in Lot C on the south side of Dennison Woods. The vehicle was locked and most of the students’ supplies were still in the trunk. Dogs traced the students’ scents a mile into the Woods before the search was called off due to inclement weather.
With the addition of over 100 volunteers from the community, the search resumed late Tuesday morning. According to Buckman, searchers followed Carlson and Traini’s trail four miles north into Dennison Woods. Just south of Misty Falls Cave, the “irrefutable evidence” that the two students had been taken by maenads was found. Buckman refused to elaborate on the nature of the evidence, citing “security concerns.”
Douglass describes herself as “shell–shocked” at the news. “It’s just so — like — why? And how? Amber and Gina were smart. They didn’t take stupid risks or make mistakes. They knew not to talk to maenads, how to avoid them.”
Dr. Haffords offers his own theory, and his own opinion of the unidentified evidence. “I believe it, yes. Though I have to wonder why. Were they just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or did this have something to do with Gina’s research? Is there something going on between the Amnisiades and the maenads? I would hate to think so, but I wonder.”
In keeping with Columbia Technical College tradition, the names of Amber Carlson and Gina Traini will be added to the Wall of the Lost outside Lang Library. The unveiling ceremony, which is open to the public, will be held at 9:00 am Friday morning.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in a wide variety of venues, a complete list of which can be found on EHS.]