ANCHORAGE — A man fatally shot by authorities in Alaska over the weekend was a moose hunter who found the body of a young wanderer whose story was featured in the movie “Into the Wild,” his nephew said Friday.
Gordon Samel was shot Sunday night after he backed his pickup toward a Wasilla police officer north of Anchorage, Alaska State Troopers said. An investigative report will be provided to the state Department of Law to determine if deadly force was justified by a trooper and a Wasilla police officer, according to troopers.
Samel, 52, was among three hunters who discovered the body of Christopher McCandless in an abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail near the interior Alaska town of Healy in 1992. McCandless was made famous by the book by Jon Krakauer and subsequent film directed by Sean Penn.
Ramo Samel, Gordon Samel’s nephew, said his uncle signed a copy of Krakauer’s book a few years ago after giving a ride to German visitors looking for the bus. They were among scores of travelers who have been drawn over the years to the place where the 24-year-old Virginian starved to death after more than three months alone trying to live off a harsh landscape. Like many others, the visitors couldn’t reach the site because of the swollen Teklanika River.
The Germans had the book on them and asked Gordon Samel to autograph it after learning he had discovered the body of McCandless.
“They were actually surprised that they’d actually seen the guy who found him,” Ramo Samel said, adding his uncle was glad to comply.
Ramo Samel said his uncle was a good man, as well is a talented mechanic and auto-body specialist.
According to Krakauer’s book, a couple from Anchorage was standing about 50 feet from the bus when the hunters arrived. The couple had not gone inside the bus, becoming unnerved by the smell of decay and a note taped onto the back exit of the bus that included the phrase, “I am injured, near-death and too weak to hike out of here.”
Samel looked inside a window and saw a sleeping bag that appeared to have something in it. He stood on a stump, reached through a window and gave the bag is shake. Peering in from another window, Samel saw a person’s head. It would turn out that McCandless had been dead for 2 1/2 weeks.
More than two decades later, the discovery was not a big topic of conversation for Samel, according to his nephew.
“He’d tell people that he went up there and he found him. But he didn’t talk about it much,” he said.