GRANTS PASS, Ore. – An Oklahoma teenager who was inspired to live off the land by the movie "Into the Wild" is the target of a search effort in remote, rugged country in southeastern Oregon.
Dustin Self, 19, left his family home in the Oklahoma City suburb of Piedmont "to see if he could live in the wild," and to investigate some churches that practice a South American religion that uses a hallucinogenic tea as a sacrament, his parents said. One is in Ashland, and the other in Portland.
The Harney County Sheriff's Office and others searched for him on Tuesday on the northeast side of Steens Mountain after a rancher found his pickup truck had slid off a backcountry track and gotten stuck. Searchers on ATVs saw no tracks, but checked out remote cabins and worked their way up the mountain, with no sign of him before heavy snow and high winds curtailed their efforts, said Deputy Missy Ousley.
Authorities hoped for a break in the weather so they could send up a plane to look for him.
"We did everything we could to try to talk him out of it," said his mother, Tammy Self. "He was leaving, no matter what."
The teen was well-prepared with gear he bought just before leaving, but had little experience of life in the wild beyond family camping trips, his parents said.
"He is not a survivalist," said his father, Victor Self, a manager at a box plant in Oklahoma City. "He is a very urban child."
His parents last heard from him March 15, when he called from the parking lot of a motel in northern Nevada where he was spending the night in the cab of his pickup. The next day, Dustin called his girlfriend in Austin, Texas, to say he was lost after his GPS had sent him onto a road along the east side of Steens Mountain in the high desert of southeastern Oregon.
Ousley said a storekeeper in Fields recalled him asking for directions to Lakeview, which would have taken him a different direction than where his truck was found.
A religious young man raised in a non-denominational Protestant church, Dustin had been searching for meaning in his life, his mother said. He read books like "Human Race: Get Off Your Knees," by David Icke, a former British sports reporter whose books about what he believes is really controlling life on earth are admired by conspiracy theorists. The last movie Dustin watched was "Into The Wild," about a young man who gives up his worldly goods to live in the Alaskan wilderness. A clean-cut bodybuilder in high school, he had lately grown his hair long and wore a bandanna around his head.
His mother said, "I think he got a lot off the Internet."
Tammy Self said her son is a vegetarian, with no desire to kill animals to eat.
"He thought he was going to eat berries," she said. "We tried to tell him, berries don't grow in wintertime."
His father called the Harney County Sheriff's Office on March 17, but a search along the route from Fields to Lakeview turned up nothing. He also filed a missing person report with his local police. Then on Monday, Dustin's truck was found. His backpack and camping gear were gone, but the keys, his computer, his GPS and some of his supply of protein bars and other food had been left behind.
"We're worried sick," said his father. "I just hope he's alive."