An Arizona teenager inspired by the wilderness adventure story of Into the Wild was found dead near an Oregon forest last night after going missing earlier this month. The body of Johnathan Croom, 18, was found just 1,000 feet from his car near Riddle, Oregon, and investigators are looking into the case as a suicide, according to a police statement.
Into the Wild, the 1996 book by Jon Krakauer, told the true story of Christopher McCandless, a suburban college graduate who, inspired by the wilderness tales of Jack London and Henry David Thoreau, hitchhiked deep into the Alaskan wilderness. McCandless was wholly unprepared for what was to come, and died 100 days later of some combination of starvation and food poisoning. Krakauer's book immortalized McCandless, and a 2007 movie directed by Sean Penn also contributed to his legend.
Croom's father said that the teenager had been actively interested in the Into the Wild story before going missing. "He's been watching the movie a lot," Croom told CNN. "Maybe he said, 'I want to do it.' That's our theory, because he kept talking about the movie."
Croom's father added that he believed the cause of his son's departure was the end of a recent relationship. "He was a young man who had a broken heart and headed out to try to find himself," he told the Associated Press.
But people in the town of Riddle, Oregon, near where Croom's body was found, note that their hometown isn't much of a place to relive that domed adventure. "It's 2½ miles from the major interstate; it's right in town in Riddle," a local man told CNN. "There are houses and people, and it's well-populated, so if he wanted to do an 'Into the Wild,' it wasn't the appropriate place."
Young people have for years idealized McCandless' wanderings: 19-year-old Oklahoma teenager Dustin Self remains missing after venturing into the Oregon woods earlier this year, and others have needed rescuing or died by drowning in attempts to follow McCandless' path. Today, science journalist Steve Silberman felt compelled to reminded people that the Into the Wild journey ended in disaster.
Dear smart, alienated, heartbroken kids: Please remember that "Into the Wild" didn't end well. This is so sad. http://t.co/37phciiVTn— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) August 27, 2013
Into the Wild film poster via Impawards.