About Coconino County

About Coconino County

Encompassing 18,661 square miles, Coconino County, Arizona, is the second largest county in the U.S. but one of the least populated. Our county includes Grand Canyon National Park, the Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi Indian Reservations, and the largest contiguous ponderosa pine forest in the world. Elevations range from 2,000 feet above sea level along the Colorado River to 12,633 feet at the summit of Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff.

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Just Your Average Christmas Eve (in SAR)

At least telling people I went out to help look for an arm makes for a good ice-breaker at social gatherings. Don't you think?

I really shouldn't give the details about this particular arm—whose it was, why it was out there—but, basically, this was the result of a homicide earlier this year. And by the time authorities knew where exactly to look for the body, it had been scattered by coyotes. So that's why the arm was still missing.

And that's why I got a call from our K-9 team leader, asking if I'd come along as a backer for one of the handlers. Each dog/handler/backer team would have an 11-acre segment to search, making tight grids back and forth since the dogs would be looking for something potentially as small as a finger bone.

When the three handlers, three backers, and six dogs rendezvoused at the SAR building on the morning of Christmas Eve, I just had to ask. "So, if they (law enforcement) got the rest of the body, then... well... why do they need the arm?"

They didn't, really, I was told. This was more of a training for the dogs, handlers, and backers. Of course, if we found what we were searching for—the arm or some bones thereof—we'd mark it, call it in to the detective, and he'd come collect the remains. But as far as the case against the person who (I guess I'm supposed to insert the word "allegedly") committed the crime, these bones would not be necessary evidence. I'd think a find would, however, mean something to family of the deceased.

So, we did our best, making our grids as tight as possible given the obstacles—the pinion–juniper, rocks, cactus, and the mud. And, wow, was it muddy. I felt (and looked) like I had 10 pounds of clay mud caked on the bottom of my boots. I had mud up the front and back of my pants. I was slipping and stumbling like I was drunk, which was really draining. I think it even wore on the dogs after a while. But they and we kept working through all that mud and other obstacles until we'd completed our search areas.

Unfortunately, we didn't have a find, but the dogs alerted on the spot where the body had previously been found, even though it had been quite some time since it had been removed. So, we knew they were working and doing what they'd been trained to do.