Saturday, 8:14 p.m.
This is a KGX Channel 7 Breaking News Report. I’m Valerie Parker.
Four teenagers have gone missing tonight from an adventure camp in
Northern Idaho. Early reports say the teens and their river guide were
involved in a rafting accident sometime this afternoon. Their names are
being withheld pending notification of their parents. Rescue teams are
being assembled, according to local authorities. The camp earns the
title, “The safest camp in Idaho” every year.
Tragically, after today all that has changed forever. Stay tuned to KGX
Channel 7 for more details as they develop…
Thursday, two days earlier
It was a warm August afternoon and Camp Arrowhead buzzed with activity.
New teen campers had been streaming in since mid-morning. Savannah
Evans, who had arrived earlier in the day, was heading toward the
message board to check out the day’s schedule when she noticed another
car pull into the drop zone.
Curious, she waited to catch a glimpse of the new arrival. But before
she saw the passenger, a huge commotion exploded in the arriving
An agitated woman who appeared to be the girl’s mother started yelling
from inside of the car. “Come on, Jade! Hurry up and get out of the
car; we’ve got a plane to catch!”
Savannah watched in shock as the distraught girl scurried out the
backseat of the car as fast as she could. In tow were a backpack, two
suitcases and a purse slowly winding itself around the poor girl’s
arm. In an instant the car sped off, leaving a trail of dust and the
young teen in a heap. There were no hugs or even attempts at a good-bye,
only a heartless door slam and the vehicle peeling off at a high rate of
Staggering under the weight of her load, the devastated girl fell to the
ground and began sobbing.
Savi was stunned by the dramatic scene happening in front of her.
What was THAT all about? Was that her mom? Savannah thought to herself.
Pretty rough no matter who it was!
She felt sorry for the distraught new arrival crying on the ground.
“How embarrassed I’d feel if that was me, especially with everybody
watching.” She thought.
“I should go and help her.”
She hurried over to the drop off area, bent down on one knee, and did
her best to comfort the frazzled stranger.
“Can I help you with some of this stuff? It looks like a lot for one
person to carry.”
Startled, the girl at first tried to shake off the unwelcome intruder.
“Leave me alone—I don’t need any help,” she said in a harsh
tone. “Who are you, anyway?
“My name’s Savannah, but my friends call me Savi. I…I just thought
you could use some help.”
Savannah waited patiently for the teen to collect herself. Slowly she
lifted her tear-stained face to see who had spoken to her so kindly. The
sight of the girl’s face made Savannah inhale sharply.
“What? I look stupid, right? I already know that.” The girl said
even more perturbed.
“No, not at all. It’s just that…you’re so pretty.”
In her sixteen years of living in Oxford, Mississippi she never saw a
girl as beautiful as this one. Despite the tear tracks on her face and a
pair of puffy eyes, she looked like a real life sized china doll. Her
milky white complexion contrasted by her long shiny black hair was
stunning. When you added in her soft delicate features, she was
flawless. As close to perfect as a girl her age could look.
The girl finally realized that Savi was only trying to be friendly and
“Thanks for saying that Savi, but I don’t feel very pretty right
now…My name’s Jade Chang—Sorry I snapped at you—Do you mind that
I call you Savi?”
“Not at all, I’d like that,” Savi replied with a smile.
“I feel like such a fool. I can’t believe my mother did that to
me,” she said shaking her head.
“Well…you’re not going to have to deal with her for a while. Come
Let’s go see what cabin you’re in…Maybe we’re in the same
Jade stood up and with Savi’s help gathered up her belongings and
headed for the camp office. As they walked, Savi looked down at Jade’s
Coach purse, Tumi suitcases, and North Face backpack. All this great
stuff…but she still seems so unhappy.
During their walk to the office, Savi looked over at Jade and could tell
that she was deep in thought and that her heart was heavy. So while
carrying her suitcase with her right hand, she lifted her left and
patted her gently on the back.
Jade was touched by the kind gesture so she glanced over at Savi and
gave her a friendly smile. Savi grinned back and felt hopeful that she
might have already found a new friend at camp.
“Savi, I noticed you’re limping. Did you hurt your ankle?”
“Actually, I hurt it a few years ago,” she replied.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to…”
“That’s okay, it’s no big deal”
“No really,” Jade said apologetically, “I’m sorry for being so
“No worries,” Savi replied. “It’s not as if you asked me how
much I weigh or something,” as she rolled her eyes and gave Jade a
friendly nudge with her elbow.
Both girls laughed and continued walking toward the camp office. On the
way, Savi said to Jade. “How ‘bout I tell you the story about my
Then the two of them agreed to drop the subject for another time.
When they arrived at the office, they looked for the cabin assignments
posted outside the door. Savi could already tell Jade was feeling a bit
more comfortable and starting to relax.
“Jade over here…Those are the boys’ cabins…Here’s the
girls.’ I’m sure they’d be thrilled to see you, though,” Savi
Embarrassed, Jade threw her head back and then made her way over to
where Savi was standing in front of the girls’ cabin assignment board.
“You said, ‘Chang,’ right?” Savi asked, running her finger down
the list of names.
“That’s right.” Jade replied.
“Here you are…Oh that stinks! We’re in different cabins.” Savi
“Want to go inside and see if they’ll move us to the same one?”
Jade looked at Savi and paused a moment…“Umm, okay. That sounds
The girls did their best to convince the camp director that they should
be in the same cabin. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t budge. But he told
them he’d keep in mind their desire to be together when planning
When they left the office, the girls decided to drop off Jade’s stuff
at her cabin and grab a cool drink. After leaving the snack shack, they
found a shady spot on a carved log bench.
“I promised I’d tell you about my ankle. I guess this is as good a
time as any.”
“You know you don’t have to,” Jade replied.
“I know, but I want you to know how I got my limp.”
“I have to admit…I am a bit curious.”
“Well, when I was eight years old, the U.S. National Gymnastic Team
came to Oxford, Mississippi to put on an exhibition at Ole Miss.”
“Ole Miss?” questioned Jade.
“Oh sorry, that’s short for University of Mississippi. Anyway, my
dad took me to see the competition and that event changed my life.”
Jade shrugged. “How?”
“Watching the different routines was so cool. I instantly fell in love
with gymnastics, particularly the balance beam. The girls were so
graceful but strong at the same time. I dreamed of becoming one of them.
For the next three years I trained on the beam and competed in a bunch
of events. My goal was to make the U.S. National Team.”
Suddenly, Savi stopped. “I’m not boring you am I?”
“No, not at all! I’m really interested. Keep going.”
“In just three years, I was ranked fourth in the nation in my age
Everybody was so proud of me. But, only the top three girls went to
The final cuts were a few years ago in Nashville. I was tied for second
place with this girl named Julie, with only one routine to go—I was
freaking out! I knew my only hope of beating her, and advancing was to
do a flawless routine and stick my landing. Everything was going great
until my final element, an aerial summersault. It was always my most
challenging move. I was hoping I could pull it off. The summersault was
perfect but as I landed on the beam…” Savi paused and looked down at
her ankle. “My left foot hit the beam wrong and my ankle snapped like
a dry branch.”
“Oh my gosh, that’s awful! I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, me too. Because that ended my career in gymnastics and my dream
of going to the Olympics.”
“They couldn’t fix it?” Jade asked.
“They tried, but it never healed quite right, so I’ve learned to
live with it. I get around just fine, though.”
“I can see that—Wow! That’s quite a story. Thanks for telling it
Well, now you know a little about me, but I know absolutely nothing
about you. Next time we meet, it’s your turn.”
“That’s a deal.”
They both finished their drinks and stood up.
“I can’t believe how tall you are! You must be at least 5’ 7.”
“Actually, I’m 5’ 8,” Jade said proudly.
“I knew you were up there. I’ve always been on the short side. Only
But you know what they say, ‘good things come in small packages.’”
Jade smiled and nodded in agreement. Then they said good-bye, and headed
toward their separate cabins.
Savi called over her shoulder, “I’ll look for you later!”
“Okay, later!” Jade yelled back.
Savi was on the way back to her cabin when she came upon three boys
leaning against a big tree, joking around with each other. She caught
one of the boy’s eyes and he watched her as she walked by toward the
cabins. He immediately noticed her limp and nudged his friends. “Look
at that one. I didn’t know this camp was open to special needs
kids!” he said in a raised voice, most likely for her to hear. Again,
the same boy blurted out, “I hope they don’t match me up on some
activity with ‘lame girl.’”
Savi overheard the insult but pretended she didn’t. She also heard one
of the boys standing with him say, “Nice one, Conner!”
By the time Savi reached her cabin, she was red-faced and fuming. Alone,
sitting on her bed, she stared out the window at Conner. She watched as
he and his friends amused themselves at the expense of others walking
Here we go again, she thought to herself. I thought I left those bullies
back at school! Then, she rose to her feet and stepped outside of the
cabin. With an animated face and a loud voice she yelled in the
bully’s direction, “Hey, Conner! Your mom’s on the phone and says
you forgot to pack your blankie and Batman underwear!”
Instantly, a roar of laughter erupted from those within earshot of her
clever retort. This time it was Conner’s turn to feel the sting of
humiliation. He slinked away to his cabin not to be seen again until the
Savi stood in front of her cabin triumphant, though she did feel
somewhat ashamed for finding the taste of revenge so sweet. Suddenly, a
familiar voice shouted from across the campground, “Savi, come look!
We’re paired up together for tomorrow’s rafting trip! We’re in the
She leaped for joy and joined Jade at the message board for an energetic
“And guess what? There are boys in our raft. Two of them!” Jade
proclaimed excitedly. “One’s named Rico Cruz and the other is some
guy named Conner Swift.”
“What?” Savi yelled. “Conner…I just met that jerk! I’m not
getting in a raft with him. No way!” Savi vowed.
“Oh yes you are, little lady!” Savi heard Camp Director Anderson say
forcefully behind her. “All raft assignments are final. What’s done
is done. There will be NO changes!” the director reiterated as he
Savi stood staring aimlessly at the message board. What could be worse
than being in a raft with Conner Swift! It wouldn’t be long before
she’d find out.
Excerpted from "Escape Through the Wilderness" by Gary Rodriguez. Copyright © 2014 by Gary Rodriguez. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.