The Washington Post

Second young man disappears in southern Oregon after reading ‘Into the Wild’

Johnathan Croom, the second young man to disappear into the southern Oregon wilderness this year after reading the book “Into the Wild,” was found dead Monday near his abandoned vehicle in the small town of Riddle. The 18-year-old was from Apache Junction, Ariz. His death is being investigated as a suicide. He discussed the 1996 book by Jon Krakauer with his parents before leaving home, driven, his father said, by frustration in his romantic life:

In a telephone interview from Oregon, David Croom said his son was grieving the end of a recent relationship with “someone back in Phoenix.”

“He was a young man who had a broken heart and headed out to try to find himself,” the elder Croom said. “We’re looking forward to finding out exactly what happened.”

He thanked everyone who helped search for his son and added, “Please pray for our family.”

The father said he had no specifics on a cause of death. . . .

Croom also talked to his parents about Christopher McCandless, whose journey to Alaska was documented in the book “Into the Wild.” McCandless gave up his worldly goods to live in the Alaska wilderness, only to die there, perhaps from eating wild potatoes.

Associated Press

Earlier this year, Dustin Self, 19, disappeared on Steens Mountain in the eastern part of the state. The young man from Oklahoma had also talked about McCandless with his parents. Search parties never found any trace of Self, other than his truck.

Sean Penn adapted “Into the Wild” for the screen in 2007. When the film was released, Post film critic Ann Hornaday wrote:

Penn. . . preserved the book’s most iconic, even mystical, values while carefully whittling away Krakauer’s multi-layered narrative to focus on its confounding protagonist: Chris McCandless, the 23-year-old recent college graduate who in 1992, after two years of tramping through the American West, embarked on a 113-day sojourn in the Alaska backcountry that ended in his death. . . .

A complex character who was as elusive in life as he was polarizing in death, McCandless was many things: brilliant, naive, selfish, compassionate and brave but also foolish, manipulative and brutally honest.

[Emile] Hirsch captures and embodies all those qualities as he portrays McCandless’s sudden, unexplained leave-taking of his Annandale family and his reconstitution of both his own identity and the notion of family. It’s a journey that wends from Atlanta to Arizona to South Dakota to California, and finally to Alaska’s Stampede Trail.

“Into the Wild” is far more than the story of an idealistic, doomed young man and instead turns into a portrait of an alternative America, that scruffy, feisty frontier populated by outlaws and vagabonds and spiritual seekers. More obliquely, it’s a depiction of how America quickly and ruthlessly marginalizes its dharma bums and dropouts, its dissidents and disobedient sons.

Ann Hornaday

Croom had been expected back in Arizona on Aug. 17 for his first days of college.

Max Ehrenfreund writes for Wonkblog and compiles Wonkbook, a daily policy newsletter. You can subscribe here. Before joining The Washington Post, Ehrenfreund wrote for the Washington Monthly and The Sacramento Bee.


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