On the morning of April 1, 2011, 20-year-old Joe Le ventured out to the Angeles National Forest, intent on conquering the trail up to the Bridge to Nowhere. Little did he and his hiking buddy know that the river currents at the time were more powerful than normal, due to the recent weather changes melting the winter snow.
While plunging through the San Gabriel River using the feeble rope crossing, Joe was overcome by the waist-high torrents. Witnesses were too slow to react as he was rapidly swept further downstream. The current was far too swift.
That night, Joe’s older sister, Victoria, rallied volunteers using his Facebook account to assist with the search party the next day. The morale was low, and asides from the occasional helicopter sweep over the site, the authorities were nowhere to be seen.
Said Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Steve Whitmore, “Staffing was at a premium until they decided to turn it into a recovery operation,” which was initiated Friday evening.
At about 1PM Sunday, the third day of Joe’s disappearance, his backpack was recovered from the water by a group of volunteers. The rallying efforts of Joe’s friends and family yielded the attendance of over 100 search volunteers that day.
Santos Navarrete, an experienced hiker and volunteer with no previous acquaintance to Joe or the Le family, tied himself to trees and poked around in the water until he found Joe’s body, trapped underneath a log. By finding Joe, the Le family found closure, and from there rose the birth of G.I Joe Search & Rescue – the Joe Le Foundation.
Since then, G.I. Joe has assisted with the search for Michelle Le in Hayward, CA, and the Nguyen/Neacato case at Kern River. Its founding board is comprised entirely of Asian American volunteers, and is possibly the first search and rescue group to originate as so.
I just may be biased since Joe was a very close friend of mine, but never have I seen such a selfless group of people – strangers who came together with the common objective of locating a missing person they had never even met. Now some of these volunteers are part of the founding board of G.I. Joe, and continue putting themselves at risk to help families in grief.
G.I. Joe Search & Rescue is always open to new members who are interested in joining its cause: providing volunteer assistance and resources to local authorities and families with missing loved ones. Rescuers should be in good physical shape and have some experience with hiking, but for those without, the foundation is raising funds to afford professional training for its volunteers.
The group is currently based in Southern California, but will accept missions throughout the state and in the surrounding area (as far as its capabilities and resources will allow). To make a donation or for more information on G.I. Joe, visit www.gij411.org or contact GIJ4.email@example.com.