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Lost and found in the Tillamook Forest

Emma Beggs, 13, spends a long, sleepless night trying to get back to her family


NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JILL REHKOPF SMITH - Emma Beggs of Aloha is reunited with her family (and her smartphone) Tuesday morning after getting lost during a run and wandering the Tillamook Forest for 15 hours.Fifteen hours. That’s how long 13-year-old Emma Beggs wandered the Tillamook Forest alone, in the dark, looking for a road, a person, a sign — something that could help her get back to her family.

Emma had been camping with her dad’s family in the Gales Creek Campground on Highway 6 west of Banks. At about 6 p.m. Monday, she announced she wanted to go for a three-mile run.

An International School of Beaverton student who runs track and cross-country, Emma was determined to get in her running time for the day. So off she went.

“Three miles is just enough to get lost,” said her father, Eric Beggs, Tuesday morning.

Beggs, a Hillsboro resident, had been out collecting wood when Emma took off. When she failed to return, he and his wife (Emma's stepmom) began to worry, he said. They tried searching for her on their own but were unable to find her. There is no cellphone service in the area so Beggs drove out to find a cell signal and called for help at 9:45 p.m.

Then he called Emma's mother and stepfather, Alix and Jake Fisher. The Aloha couple rushed out to help with what became an all-night search, along with five friends and even Jake's mother, who drove up from the Medford area.

They joined Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputies, as well as search and rescue teams from the sheriff's offices of both Washington and Tillamook counties, plus air support.

The search team set up an operations base at the campground until 8 a.m. Tuesday, when they moved it a few miles west to Rogers Camp on the south side of the highway, where there was more space and better cellular reception. They sent out press releases so news of the missing girl began appearing on TV screens and online news sites.

At about 8:52 a.m., a couple loggers who’d seen one of those news reports called 911. They’d been driving along a logging road in the Tillamook Forest when a teenage girl in a gray and pink tank top with black running shorts flagged him down.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JILL REHKOPF SMITH - Doug Beggs (green shirt) expresses his relief and joy to see his niece, 13-year-old Emma Beggs, returned safely after being lost in the Tillamook Forest.

“She came out way up Cochran Road, west of Timber (Road),” said WCSO Sgt. Bob Ray. It was a good nine miles from where she started, he said.

Emma told Ray she hadn’t stopped walking all night, although at times it was so dark “she was on her hands and knees so she could find the trail,” he said. She began placing sticks on the path in arrow shapes, pointing the direction she was headed in case any rescuers were following.

“We were hot on her trail,” said Ray, although Emma was found before any deputies ran across the makeshift arrows.

People don’t often get lost in the forest — especially not when they’re following a trail, said Randy Peterson, recreation program manager for the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Forest Grove District, which manages the east side of the Tillamook State Forest.

Peterson can remember only one case from last year: A group of people who'd gotten lost on a trail managed to find cell service and called the Forest Grove District office, where staff members gave them directions and helped them find their way out.

Tuesday morning, Emma returned to a parking area crowded with worried family members, sheriff’s deputies and vehicles, as well as TV News cameras and reporters — all wanting to hear what happened.

Emma talked about the path forking and a bunch of bees chasing her. Basically, “I got lost,” Emma said Tuesday morning, 16-and-a-half hours after she’d set out on her run.

“She never stopped looking for the road,” said her dad. And it was the trucks that finally showed her where the road was.

Long after the deputies and the reporters had cleared out, the many family members that had come to share the vigil-turned-celebration remained with Emma in their midst, wrapped in a blanket, wrapped in their arms.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JILL REHKOPF SMITH - Juliet Oglesbee (left) huddles against her niece, Emma Beggs, while Uncle Doug Beggs (green shirt) and Emmas mother (back to camera) share in the happiness of reuniting with the 13-year-old Aloha girl who got lost while going for a run near the Gales Creek Campground