Missing UMaine student found after spending 8 hours wandering along river

Posted April 17, 2010, at 1:02 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — A University of Maine student who was the subject of a large-scale search Saturday after he apparently became disoriented during a fraternity initiation prank wandered along the Stillwater River for more than eight hours before emerging about 2:25 p.m. from the woods onto the steam plant parking lot on College Avenue.

Joshua Gilmore, 19, of Levant was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center for treatment of possible hypothermia, according to Joe Carr, spokesman for the University of Maine.

He was treated at EMMC and later released, a hospital nursing supervisor said about three hours after Gilmore was found.

Gilmore’s parents, Renee and Gary Gilmore of Levant, were reunited with their son at Heritage House, 101 College Ave., before he was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Efforts to reach the Gilmore family for comment were unsuccessful Sunday.

The Hermon High School graduate was reported missing to campus police at 8:10 a.m., Carr said. Members of Sigma Chi fraternity told police the junior financial economics major did not return from an apparent initiation prank that began about 6 a.m. behind Heritage House, formerly the Sigma Chi fraternity. The building now houses the Office of University Development.

Fraternity pledges, wearing dress shirts, suit jackets and ties, were sent in search of a so-called artifact, according to Carr. After some time, the other pledges returned but Gilmore did not.

Members of the fraternity spent about two hours searching for Gilmore on their own before calling campus police.

By noon, nearly 100 volunteers, including about 80 students, had turned out to help in the search effort, coordinated by the Maine Warden Service and University of Maine Police. Professionals and equipment from the Orono Police Department, Old Town Police Department, Maine State Police, Penobscot County Sheriff’s De-partment, Orono Fire Department, Old Town Fire Department, Milford Fire Department, Indian Island Fire Department and the Maine Forest Service also took part, Carr said. Volunteers from Down East Emergency Medical Institute assisted the Warden Service in managing the search.

The effort included searchers on the ground and in boats and a helicopter, and a Maine Warden Service dog also was brought in.

“We are immensely grateful for the quick and effective response from so many agencies and individuals,” said Robert Dana, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “The response from our students — who turned out by the dozens to help search — is equally gratifying. Thankfully, these efforts ended with a posi-tive outcome, and Josh was reunited with his parents to our great relief.”

“We’re glad this is a happy ending,” Noel March, the chief of police and public safety director for the university, said after Saturday’s search.

When asked about the fraternity initiation that led to the search, Carr said the university has a strict policy against hazing.

“We will carefully interview this young man and others to determine what led to his being in the woods at 6 a.m. on a Saturday,” Dana said. “If there are indications of that, of course the university doesn’t tolerate hazing and would not, so we’ll wait to see what the facts say.”

Dana also said he had been told Gilmore had not been drinking in the hours leading up to the initiation and had had a good night’s sleep.

Gilmore and the searchers apparently missed each other, said Lt. Kevin Adam, head of search and rescue for the Maine Warden Service. The student told authorities that at some point he crossed Stillwater Avenue, realized where he was, then turned around and headed back toward the campus along the river.

Search teams most likely were behind him, Adam said after Gilmore had been taken to the hospital. Teams first went along the river toward Stillwater Avenue from Heritage House, then back. Searchers then regrouped and conducted a shoulder-to-shoulder search from 101 College Ave. to Route 2 before turning around.

As he came out of the woods, Gilmore encountered Down East Emergency Medicine Institute search party, according to Richard Bowie, who helped coordinate the search and rescue operation. The team, made up of Dr. Elmer Lommier and two unidentified university students, was conducting a secondary search of the area that had been swept earlier in the day by a larger group.

Lommier examined Gilmore in the parking lot before university police took him to the house to be reunited with his parents, Bowie said Saturday night in an e-mail. University officials interviewed Gilmore briefly at Heritage House. March said he expected more interviews with Gilmore and Sigma Chi members would be con-ducted this week.

“It was clear to me he was over his head and out of his element,” March said at an impromptu press conference after Gilmore left in the ambulance.

Shortly after Gilmore was found, a group of students milled around outside Heritage House. Detective Sgt. William Flagg urged them to respect their friend’s privacy and give him time to recover before peppering him with questions.

“He needs to go to the hospital,” Flagg said. “He’s had a rough day but he’s OK. He’s walking and talking, but he’s spent some cold hours in the woods. Enjoy the fact that he’s OK. This is a good day.”

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