PORTLAND, Maine – A New Hampshire woman who fled her home in a manic state, leaving her husband and young son behind, left few clues when she abandoned her car 150 miles away in another state on a highway median in a snowstorm.
Police believed Sarah Rogers was likely picked up by a motorist in central Maine. But it turns out her body was nearby all along; searchers found it Saturday less than a half-mile away.
Her anguished mother said Monday things might have turned out differently if police had acted swiftly on the family's warnings that Rogers was a danger to herself. Maine troopers said they would have searched harder when they found the car along Interstate 95 in Clinton if they'd known Rogers' mental health history.
"If they had taken it seriously to begin with, she might be alive," said Ora Sorensen, an artist with a gallery in Delray Beach, Fla.
Rogers' husband, Fritz Coulombe, of Barrington, N.H, said there's no way his wife would have left behind their son, Elias, and missed his second birthday if she was in the right frame of mind. Rogers suffered from bipolar disorder and had become manic before her disappearance, her family said.
On Dec. 13, Rogers hopped in her car and drove away. Her husband called police. Her father, who lives in Davie, Fla., spoke to police, as well.
But Maine State Police were unaware of her background when a trooper discovered her idling car stuck in a snow bank with the driver's side door open. Three searches — two with dogs— turned up no sign of her.
Sorensen described her daughter as a talented guitarist and artist who moved two years ago to New Hampshire. "She was a poet, music writer and a genius, and she was beautiful," her mother said.
Like millions of Americans, Sarah Rogers battled mental illness. She was diagnosed as a teenager with bipolar disorder, which is characterized by dramatic mood swings, her mother said. She tended to suffer a couple of manic episodes each year.
Bob Rogers, her father, said the episode was similar to one in March 2008, when his daughter left her home in Florida and drove for hours. She was later found and treated at a hospital before returning home.
Before her latest disappearance, Rogers became increasingly concerned because his daughter was off her medication and behaving erratically. She was stopped on suspicion of drunken driving in Barrington, N.H., and was becoming increasingly delusional and paranoid, her father said.
Because she was an adult, officers didn't seem overly concerned when she sped away, Bob Rogers said.
"They have this mindset that they're an adult and they're allowed to go missing," he said.
Barrington police officials did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Monday night.
Last weekend, a property owner looking for signs of the missing woman discovered her coat in the woods and contacted state police. A trail of clothing — boots, corduroy pants and sweater — led to Rogers' body.
Investigators believe she died from exposure because people suffering from hypothermia often feel a burning sensation, leading them to shed clothing, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
An autopsy conducted Monday by the state medical examiner's office in Augusta failed to provide the definitive answer; more studies were ordered, a spokeswoman said.