Mystery Surrounds Ten Sleep Shooting

posted by dpm on 09/19/2013


In the early morning hours of Monday, September 16th, Jose (last names withheld), a rock climber from Ecuador, was shot in the chest and driven to the hospital in Worland, Wyoming. Jose and his girlfriend, Ana, were reportedly camped along the 'old road'  near Leigh Creek at the bottom of Ten Sleep Canyon when they were awoken by the sound of branches breaking around their tent at approximately 2:00 am. Jose reported to police that he got out of the tent to investigate, felt something hit his abdomen, fell down, then got in the car and was driven by Ana to the hospital in Worland about 30 minutes away. Upon their arrival in Worland, they realized he'd been shot by what police are calling a "small caliber" weapon.

The 'old road' at the entrance to Leigh Creek Campground. Jose and Ana were camped in one of the free sites along the road nearby.

At approximately 4:00 am following the shooting, Worland police arrived on the scene and woke up nearby campers Tom and Elke Lindner, who were sleeping in their van. Tom and Elke, parents of former pro climber Chris Lindner, have spent a great deal of time climbing in Ten Sleep and regularly camp at the bottom of the 'old road.' They reported seeing nor hearing anything unusual. That morning, the Lindners drove to Worland to check on the injured climber and found out that he'd been air-lifted to a hospital in Billings, Montana. According to police, he is expected to make a full recovery.

The Worland police department is investigating the incident but have no leads or suspects. In an email correspondence with local climber Alli Rainey, Sheriff Steve Rakness stated that none of the camping or climbing areas are closed and that they are increasing patrols in the area with the help of the Forest Service and Game and Fish Department. The police are urging caution when camping in the area but also stating that they feel there is no immediate threat to campers or climbers.

These are the facts in the case but there is a great deal of speculation in the local community as well. I'm currently camping and climbing in Ten Sleep Canyon and the night following the incident, I was still unaware of what happened and camped 400 feet from the reported scene of the shooting. It was a quiet night as usual. The following morning I learned about the incident from the all-knowing internet and drove back up the canyon to ask nearby campers if they heard anything unusual. I spoke with Jim Lowry who lives and works at the Ten Sleep Fish Hatchery a few hundred feet from the reported scene of the incident. He had noticed nothing unusual and noted that Jose and Ana had been camped there for approximately two weeks. He'd spoken with another climber that had climbed with the pair who also stated that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Mr. Lowry called the incident, "the first time something like this has happened" and found it bizarre and puzzling. He speculated that the only way they would catch this guy is if he "bragged about it at the bar."

I also met with Tom and Elke Lindner who offered some insight into the events of the day prior to the shooting incident. Jose and Ana climbed that day at the World Domination Wall with Jimmy from Alaska. After climbing, the pair returned to the camping area and visited Jimmy's campsite where they ate dinner and hung out until about 10:00 pm. Jose and Ana then traveled the short distance back to their campsite and went to sleep. Jimmy reported nothing unusual about the pair according to the Lindners.

The following details about what happened next comes from a comment posted to the Bighorn Climber's Coalition's website. The comment was posted by an unknown person with username "ClimbingNewsUpdate." An email to the commenter was not immediately returned.

The climber shot in Ten Sleep Canyon is recovering in a hospital in Billings, Montana. The Ecuadorian climber, Jose, and his Romanian-American girlfriend, Ana, have offered clarifying information regarding the incident. They wish for their last names to remain anonymous.

The couple was on a climbing vacation in the United States, enjoying the Ten Sleep limestone. They were sleeping by Leigh Creek when, at 2am, a large object fell on their tent, awakening them. Ana turned on her head lamp and looked outside to investigate, finding a thick branch. They assumed it had fallen from the tree above. Minutes later, a larger object fell on their tent. Worried that something even larger may fall on them, the couple turned on their head lamps and left the tent to investigate the situation and seek shelter in the car. Ana identified the second projectile as a grapefruit-sized rock next to the tent.

Upon exiting the tent, Jose was shot and fell to the ground. Ana heard the shot and saw movement in the bushes about 40 feet away, moving quickly toward the road. She describes the shot as “relatively quiet, maybe stifled.”

The bullet hit Jose in the chest, penetrating his lung and breaking several ribs. Local officials investigating the incident believe the caliber used may have been a .22.

The couple believes it was an attack, not a hunting accident. “Considering the branch and rock thrown at our tent, our bright headlamps and our voices, the shooter’s clear line of sight, and his close proximity, it is hard for us to imagine that it was an accident. Deer don’t wear headlamps,” says Ana.

Jose and Ana have no idea as to the motive of the attack, and did not have any altercations with anyone in the area. They emphasize that they harbor no ill feelings toward the people of Ten Sleep, and are focusing their energy on Jose’s recovery. He hopes to get back on the rock as soon as possible.

Among local climbers, motive for the attack has been the focus of much speculation. Ten Sleep has always been a very safe place to climb and camp. As Mr. Lowry at the Fish Hatchery noted, "this is the first time something like this has happened" and the area, overall, is virtually crime free without so much as a car break-in. The Lindners discussed the possibility of a territorial dispute over a campsite and reflected on a minor incident they had along the old road in which they returned to their camp to find it occupied by a local party. That unrelated incident is only the source of a possible motive as climbers and locals scratch their heads wondering why something like this would happen. Other climbers speculate on the possibility of a personal dispute between the victim and the unknown shooter, but no details support that motive, while other theories swirl as well, none supported by any factual information.  

Police are continuing the investigation and, as they stated, have increased their presence along the 'old road.' Climbers, including the Lindners, continue to camp near the scene of the incident but Elke said that the night following the incident she didn't sleep well and her "senses were on alert." If more details emerge, this story will be updated, but for now a great deal of mystery still surrounds this bizarre occurrence near the quiet town of Ten Sleep, Wyoming.