Teen fascinated with “Into the Wild” movie found dead in rural Oregon

RIDDLE, Ore. — Police believe a teenager who disappeared earlier this month and whose father said was obsessed with the movie, “Into the Wild” took his own life.

According to his father, Johnathan Croom, 18, had developed an obsession with the movie “Into the Wild,” in which a young man leaves society to go live off the land. The 2007 movie stars Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn and was directed by Sean Penn.

David Croom said his son left Phoenix, Ariz. in early August for an adventure to Lynnwood, Washington. He was last seen at a friend’s home in Seattle, where he’d been visiting. His father assumed he was driving back to Arizona through Washington and Oregon before he went missing.

“I texted him everyday. Please call. I’m looking for you. Please call. And no response,” Croom said.

The 18-year-old’s body turned up in rural Oregon Monday, authorities say. It was 1,000 feet away from his abandoned car, which officers found last week. Johnathan’s green Honda CRV was found on a lonely road in the quiet country town of Riddle, Oregon, two days after he was supposed to start college at Mesa Community College.

They suspect no foul play. Dwes Hutson, public information officer for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office didn’t say why investigators suspect Croom took his own life.

Over the past six months, Johnathan’s father said his son had shown a growing interest in the movie and possibly wanted to emulate McCandless’ actions.

“He’s been watching the movie a lot,” Croom said before his son’s body was found. “Maybe he said, ‘I want to do it.’ That’s our theory, because he kept talking about the movie.”

The movie account of McCandless’ life has taken on an almost cult status among countless free spirits who dream of shedding the trappings of modern life and living off the land. In the book, McCandless cut off communication with his parents and traveled to Alaska, where he lived in a school bus before dying of starvation.

“There were similarities,” Croom said of his son’s disappearance.

Like McCandless, Johnathan Croom apparently traveled with very few belongings: perhaps a small backpack and his phone, his father said. Left behind in the Honda was the teen’s ID card, plus a sweatshirt, blanket and jug of water, things someone might need to survive in the wilderness.

Johnathan Croom’s camping experience was limited at best, his father said, not much more than camping once or twice.

Several reports describing travelers with an apparent interest in McCandless have surfaced recently.

In May, a police helicopter reportedly rescued three German men who had hiked into the wilderness looking for the bus. An Oklahoma teen inspired by the movie reportedly went missing in Oregon in March after telling his parents he wanted to “live in the wild.”

In 2010, a Swiss woman reportedly drowned in an Alaska river during her trek to visit the famous bus from the movie.

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