Mar 21, 2024 - News

New details emerge about Colorado family that died trying to live off the grid

Gunnison National Forest. Photo: Mark C Stevens/Getty Images

Gunnison National Forest. Photo: Mark C Stevens/Getty Images

In the days before his family moved to live off the grid in the Colorado wilderness, 13-year-old Talon Vance told his online gaming friends goodbye.

"NOOO COME BACK," the username Fluffy wrote. "Please I will give anything for you to come back," another responded.

The 13-year-old who loved video games and computers transcribed the messages over 24 pages in a journal before his family left Colorado Springs for the remote Gold Creek campground outside Gunnison — a move prompted by his mother's conspiratorial fears about global elites and the pandemic.

Why it matters: The journal, found near Vance's body months later, offers a glimpse into the teenager's story, one of the lesser-known parts of a tragic story that drew worldwide attention, writes Colorado author Ted Conover in the latest Outside magazine.

  • Importantly, his writings show how his mother planned to rely on the dark-eyed, homeschooled teenager to survive in the wild, despite having only rudimentary skills like knot tying.

Catch up quick: Rebecca Vance, Talon's mother, and his aunt, Christine, left their home in August 2022, refusing help and declining to share their destination with family, saying only they wanted to live off the grid. They landed in the woods outside the campground at 9,900 feet, where winter came early and ran cold.

  • No one knew where they disappeared until their bodies were found in July 2023 by a hiker who described the scene as an old squatter's settlement with "a mummy" lying in the middle. Two more bodies were found inside a tent.
  • The first public notice disclosed the discovery of "heavily decomposed bodies" at a remote campsite, and an autopsy released in August listed the cause of death as malnutrition and hypothermia.

The big picture: The conspiracy element and a real-life scenario imitating reality TV's survival shows added interest in their plight.

  • Rebecca, who went by Becky, believed online lies about the "Great Reset," a plot by elites to rule the world, and parroted falsehoods that vaccines and medicines implanted biosensors to control you, as detailed in a recent New York Magazine story.
  • Her final text to an acquaintance read: "They really want to merge man with machine, and I refuse to let them do that to me or my son … I don't know when all of this will happen, but I think it's important for people to get out while they still can."

The latest: In interviews with family, friends and investigators, the recent reports show just how unprepared they were to live unsupported outdoors. They brought an "$80 Walmart tent," as investigators put it, and sleeping bags but no insulated mattresses.

  • Instead of weapons to hunt, they had a lone fishing pole and dozens of seed packets for vegetables that are difficult to grow at that elevation and season.
  • Becky encouraged Talon to learn wilderness skills, such as knot tying and shelter building. His journal included descriptions for a clove hitch, bowline, Japanese square lashing, and timber hitch, Outside reported. "Side note: I did the trucker's hitch first try!!" Talon wrote.

The intrigue: In hindsight, family members realized that they didn't plan to return, giving away their cat and mementos, such as the urn with their mother's ashes, before they left.

  • They survived on canned and packaged food and from sporadic trips to town, but on Nov. 25 their car was reported abandoned and towed by the U.S. Forest Service, leaving them stranded.
  • Just miles from the campground, there are houses. But they didn't go for help.

What they're saying: Talon likely died first and the sisters moved his body to the middle of camp so they didn't sleep with it in the tent, investigators believe. His corpse weighed 40 pounds.

  • His mother probably died next. She was found inside the tent lying on top of a sleeping bag with a wooden cross and survival whistler around her neck, New York reported. His aunt was found curled up inside a blue sleeping bag.

The bottom line: Talon's journal also recounted his love of his mother and their close relationship, Outside reported. She appeared to be a good parent, apart from the decision to move to the woods. So investigators rule his death an "accident" and not a homicide.

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