Aron Christensen had 20 years of experience hiking and camping on his own, so none of his friends batted an eye when he broke off from the group camping at Walupt Lake Campground southeast of Randle to do a roughly 13-mile solo hike on Friday, Aug. 19.
Christensen and his Australian cattle dog puppy, Buzz, left the group of 16 friends he was camping with at about 8:30 a.m., with plans to be back in time to help make burgers for a Saturday night dinner at the campsite.
When Christensen hadn’t returned by 2 or 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon, the campers started to get worried.
“Everybody had their own thoughts, like ‘maybe he stopped to fish; maybe he went and got a little turned around and he went the wrong way.’ Nobody was thinking anything, obviously, at that time,” said Kate Meredith, one of Christensen’s friends who was part of the camping group.
Her husband, Ezra Meredith, later told The Chronicle he had been thinking of a friend who fatally fell off a cliff during a hike in a different forest five years prior.
“Throughout that day, I was just getting more and more worried about (Christensen), and I was kind of keeping it to myself … and just kind of looking at my clock, looking at my watch like ‘is he back? He should be back,’” said Ezra Meredith.
Some of the group started cooking dinner without Christensen at around 5 p.m., while others took part in the group’s annual cornhole tournament.
Soon after, however, some noticed a police vehicle with its lights activated parked at the nearby Walupt Lake Trailhead, about 100 yards from the campsite.
“My wife, she came up to me and she said … ‘the cops are here now, when’s a good time to tell them we’re waiting for somebody?’” said Ezra Meredith.
Kate Meredith and another friend from the camping group ultimately went over to the vehicle and spoke to a deputy with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.
They told the deputy they were expecting a friend back, and the deputy asked if their friend was alone.
No, they said, he had a dog with him.
“I’m just watching (the deputy’s) face,” said Kate Meredith, “And then I just saw. I just knew. And he said, ‘that’s why I’m here, I’m here investigating a death.’”
Deputies responded to a report of a deceased male on the 101 trail 3 to 4 miles away from Walupt Lake just after 3:55 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20, according to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office.
A hiker had reportedly found Christensen’s body about 2 feet away from his dog, who was also deceased.
“We just assumed that he was holding Buzz, and he stumbled and something happened. And that’s what happened to both of them, and that's why they were both deceased,” Kate Meredith said.
The Merediths said they were initially told Christensen, 49, died of a heart attack, but were later told both Christensen and his dog had sustained puncture wounds.
Ezra Meredith said he looked for those wounds when the Lewis County Coroner’s Office asked him to identify Christensen’s body shortly before midnight on Aug. 20.
Personnel had removed Christensen from the trail and transported him to the trailhead via boat.
“I saw his face and obviously it was him. I knew that,” Ezra Meredith said.
Unable to see blood or an obvious puncture wound on Christensen’s body, he said “I just kind of felt like that puncture wound was no big deal.”
Some time later, however, the Merediths were told the puncture wounds possibly came from a bullet that went through both Christensen and his dog.
As of this publication two months after Christensen and Buzz were found dead, the Lewis County Coroner’s Office had not confirmed the cause or manner of death for Christensen or his dog.
“That cause/manner of death is pending further forensic studies at this time,” said Coroner Warren McLeod in response to a Chronicle inquiry on Oct. 6.
Aside from confirming information about deputies’ response to the report of a deceased man on the 101 trail, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has not publicly released details on the incident or subsequent investigation.
“Due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing investigation we are not providing a great deal of details at this time … Our agency is conducting additional investigation, and waiting for additional forensic findings,” said Chief Operations Bureau Chief Dusty Breen in response to The Chronicle’s initial inquiry via email on Sept. 13.
When asked Oct. 5 if there were any updates with the investigation, Breen said, “The detectives are still waiting for some additional forensic findings prior to conducting additional investigation.”
The Merediths told The Chronicle they have received some unverified details from others close to the case about Christensen’s cause of death and a possible suspect, but haven’t had any of that information confirmed or denied by the sheriff’s office.
“We all really want to figure out what happened to (Christensen). And we’re all worried that we won’t,” said Ezra Meredith, later adding, “There’s a lot of people that are really upset about this. He was very well loved.”
Christensen, a bass player, met Ezra Meredith, a recording engineer and producer, roughly 10 years ago and the two had been close friends since.
“He was extremely present. Probably the best-listening friend I’ve ever had,” he said. “Just a kind guy. He wasn’t crude. Just a really solid, solid dude.”
Christensen had a well-established life in the Portland area, working at Cascade Record Pressing and spending his free time playing bass, singing, fishing and going on outdoor adventures with Buzz.
“Aron was just the most happy I have ever seen him in all of the years that I’ve known him,” Kate Meredith said. “Just really excited about having Buzz. We’d talk about all of the adventures he was excited about having a buddy to go on with.”
Christensen spent years working in bars, including helping establish Slingshot Lounge in Portland.
Slingshot closed its doors the Monday after Christensen’s death and hosted Christensen’s celebration of life a month later on Sept. 24.
“They were closed (for) two days just because of the overall devastation. And again, that’s just who he was,” said Ezra Meredith, later adding, “He’s my best friend. I just want justice. Really bad.”
“I’m trying to keep level, but with no news, it’s hard not to let the imagination take over,” Kate Meredith told The Chronicle. “Aron was one of the most generous and genuine people out there, and deserves justice.”