After a 10-hour drive to Ocala National Forest and a restless night that capped the sixth day of searching for their oldest daughter, a Manassas couple found the young woman yesterday morning. She was asleep in a forest campground, alive and well.
Rebecca Myers, 20, had been missing since Thanksgiving morning when she separated from her family during an excursion in Key West, Fla. While wandering around the town, she encountered several other young people from a nomadic group called the Rainbow People, and she spent the day with them.
When Rebecca finally arrived back at the dock, her mother said, the cruise ship on which her parents, sister and grandmother were traveling had sailed.
Rebecca was scared and embarrassed, Elaine Myers said yesterday after talking with her daughter. The youths offered her a ride north. But they were going only as far as Ocala National Forest, 383,220 acres of greenery near Orlando and still about 1,000 miles from Rebecca's home.
Her parents, meanwhile, had traveled back to Key West. When police learned that a woman matching Rebecca's description may have gotten in a car bound for Ocala, Elaine and Scott Myers drove there to continue the search.
"We are just so happy that it had a happy ending," Elaine Myers said yesterday afternoon, as she, her husband and their daughter traveled home from Ocala.
Rebecca Myers had planned to spend her Thanksgiving vacation with her family on a four-day cruise aboard Sovereign of the Seas, out of Miami, before returning this week to prepare for the semester's final exams at Virginia Tech.
After the family landed in Key West on Thanksgiving Day, the daughters split off on their own but agreed to meet their parents for lunch. When Rebecca's 12-year-old sister, Sarah, arrived for lunch, she explained that Rebecca had grown tired and was going to the beach to take a nap. No one worried, as she is old enough to explore on her own, her mother said.
It wasn't until later, after the ship had sailed, that her parents realized that Rebecca had failed to make it back aboard.
"She just didn't want to go to the police," Elaine Myers said. "She was nervous about doing that."
She also didn't think to call her family, her mother said.
She was trying to make her way back to Virginia, but the youths were on their way to the forest, two months before an annual gathering of Rainbow People.
The group--the largest "non-organization of non-members" in the world, according to one of its unofficial Web sites, www.welcomehome.org--is part of a '60s counterculture back-to-nature movement whose members gather in different spots each year. It is a diversion--and peaceful getaway--from "Babylon," the outside world of 40-hour workweeks, strip malls and fast-food restaurants, said a 27-year-old Colorado man who operates the Web site.
In recent years, there has been friction between the U.S. Forest Service and Rainbow People. Federal law mandates that all gatherings on national land be restricted to 75 people unless a special permit has been issued, which has caused an uproar with members.
"The thing with the Rainbow People is, they don't have any leaders and don't call themselves a group, so no one would want to sign for the free permit," said Denise Rains, spokeswoman for Florida State Forests.
Rains said that Rainbow People are generally peaceful and only a few arrests have been made over the years, specifically when members loiter in neighboring towns and cause trouble.
Elaine Myers said the young people she met with Rebecca "come from a different slice of life and can be a little unsettling." But she said they were very nice and caring toward her daughter.
Rebecca Myers is a sophomore studying urban planning and development and is a member of the women's varsity crew team at Virginia Tech, but it was unclear yesterday whether she wanted to finish the semester or rejoin Rainbow People, Elaine Myers said.
"Right now, we're going to sort through all of this and see what Rebecca wants to do," her mother said. "If she wants to go back with them, I wouldn't mind. I'm just glad we have closure to this nightmare."