PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona science teacher and his 12-year-old grandson were found dead after they went hiking in hot temperatures on an historic desert trail southwest of Phoenix, and the boy’s efforts to save them failed, authorities said on Thursday.
The bodies of Thomas Gillespie, 63, and Robert Miller, 12, were found on Wednesday night by deputies near the small town of Gila Bend, said Officer Chris Hegstrom, spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
Miller was found about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, while Gillespie’s body was some four miles further on.
“We believe that he left his grandfather to seek help and that’s when he succumbed to the elements,” Hegstrom said. “This is just a horrible thing.”
Authorities believe Gillespie, who taught science at a high school for teenage parents in Tucson for the last 23 years, died from a medical emergency or from heat exposure, with temperatures in the area surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius) at the time.
Investigators said the pair were seen leaving a local hotel on Tuesday morning, and that they were reportedly going to hike and take photographs along the Mormon Battalion Trail, which marks a route used during the Mexican-American War in the 1840s.
Searchers were dispatched to the area late on Wednesday afternoon after Gillespie’s daughter called authorities to say she was worried because she had not heard from her father or son, and that they had not returned to the hotel, Hegstrom said.
Their vehicle was found on the roadside and the boy’s body was spotted about an hour later, the spokesman said. It took a further four hours or so to locate the grandfather’s body.
Hegstrom said the pair are believed to have been heading back to the trailhead after hiking for about six miles (9.6 km) on the trail, when the grandfather collapsed.
Neither of them were found with a cellphone, nor food or water, Hegstrom said. It was not clear whether they had provisions when they set out on the hike.
The Tucson Unified School District said Gillespie had been a dedicated employee.
“He is deeply missed by our TUSD family. Our thoughts are with his family,” the school district said on Twitter.
Authorities do not suspect foul play. The medical examiner will determine the cause of the deaths.
Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler
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