To the Editor,
As I watched the news on KTVZ a few weeks ago and heard more about Aaron Saldana, his disappearance and then recovery of his body, I was struck by Jack Jones' comments about the part the sheriff's office played in this tragedy. After Aaron was found, Mr. Jones' only response was "no comment." But when approached by KTVZ at a store in Metolius he made a rather misleading statement about the situation. He was very forthright about how the sheriff's department had done everything they could do to find this young man.
There seems to be a rather large gap in his comments and reality. He stated that the sheriff's department had drained the irrigation canals and done an air and ground search, and as a footnote to his comments, he added that the family had also made "efforts."
The truth of the matter is this frantic, grief-stricken family had asked the sheriff, and others in this department, for assistance from the very first and were met with complacency and an uncaring and unkind attitude. When Sheriff Jones was asked to drain the canals he commented that this would make the farmers angry and he didn't or wouldn't do it. When he was asked for an air and ground search he declined, saying Aaron was "acting irresponsibly and he would come home when he was good and ready." When he was asked to have search dogs come in, he said there were none in the vicinity, the closest being Portland. It wasn't like it was a needle in a haystack. The family had gotten several calls from Aaron in a short period of time and T-Mobile could narrow it down to a three-mile radius. Families with loved ones do not just give up. Without Mr. Jones' or Mr. Atkins' help, the family found what help they could. A farmer organized a ground search, a pilot volunteered an air search, a friend contacted the irrigation district and the canal was drained, all of this through graciousness of neighbors, friends and family. When a family member called Portland about the search dogs, they were told the nearest search dogs were in Deschutes County -- something that was not told to them by the sheriff or his department. Was this a lack of knowledge or a resistance to aiding the family? Either way it shows a profound lack of competency.
The family was met with frustration and negativity of the worst kind in a time no family should have to endure, let alone beg and plead for assistance that should have been available and offered in a timely manner as it should be from all our public servants. I am sure Mr. Jones will have every excuse to justify the way Aaron's disappearance was handled by them, but there is no excuse or justification for the comments made to Aaron's family. Among other things, they were told Aaron would be found when "they see birds circling" and that he had put the word out to farmers "not to chop up a body when they went out with their combines." This young man had been having some mental difficulties in the last year. This should have been understood, approached, and dealt with the same way as when someone has gone missing that has diabetes and needs insulin. The sheriff's department was made aware of Aaron's condition and yet there was no compassion to be found. Anyone who has children, no matter their age or their health problems, would find the actions shown by our officials extremely offensive and inhumane.
An autopsy was requested by the family after Aaron was found. Initially they were told this was not possible because there were only skeletal remains. Only after a local physician was told of the circumstances in which Aaron was found was an autopsy ordered and completed.
Empathy is described as "your pain in my heart." Laws are made to guide and direct you but they can never replace human caring and concern. As I heard recently, "Does someone else's life matter as much as our own, if we truly believe this then we will act accordingly". Recently "The T.O.R.C.H." publication to raise awareness about domestic violence was in our local newspaper. The sheriff's office is part of the task force to rid our community of this escalating problem. Mr. Jones may want to study this publication and apply the timely information, beginning with the first page on "What Kind of a Community Do You Envision." A major part of domestic violence is emotional and psychological abuse and certainly the treatment the Saldanas received via Mr. Jones would be classified as such. Domestic can refer to family, county or country. As has been said, domestic violence has many forms and faces.
Aaron's family's loss is beyond comprehension. He has left a void in our world, and a void in his family's heart that can never be filled.
Kind, consoling words and every effort imaginable should have been offered up without hesitation, as we have seen many times in various places. Instead, 87 days of torment and complacency, were given by those in authority. We should all be concerned about the treatment this family endured. Our public officials should be held accountable and at the very least apologize for their total lack of compassion and misjudgment. Tragedy strikes at random and shows no favorites. If your family happens to be next in line, how would you like to be treated?