Family Confirms: Body of Missing San Francisco Teacher Found
San Francisco high school teacher Ed Cavanaugh, missing in El Dorado National Forest since July 17. (Find Ed Today! via Facebook)
Update 4:20 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5: The El Dorado County Sheriff's department says the body believed to be that of San Francisco teacher Ed Cavanaugh -- missing since July 17 -- was discovered in such rugged terrain that expert motorcycle riders had difficulty getting anywhere near it, and thick brush obscured the body and dirt bike from helicopters surveying from the air.
Lt. Tom Murdoch said the site was "quite a ways off" from the nearest off-highway vehicle trail.
"It took some effort to get where he was, some really good riding skills," Murdoch said. "The terrain, the road, the trail in that area is like a black diamond ski run. It's advanced, and he'd even gone off that to another area more challenging, more steep with more obstacles than that black diamond run."
The identity of the body has not been officially confirmed, Murdoch said. Positive identification as well as cause of death are under investigation by the El Dorado County Coroner's Office. That investigation will likely take at least a week, Murdoch said.
Update 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5: The body of Ed Cavanaugh has been found in Eldorado National Forest, confirms a Facebook post by the sister of the San Francisco teacher, who has been missing since July 17.
"My family is heartbroken to share the news that Ed has been found but he is no longer with us," wrote Debbie Cavanaugh Schultz. "We regret to put this information out on social media but the press has already begun reporting this terrible news. We hope all who love Ed find comfort in knowing that his bright spirit is with us."
Update 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4 : The El Dorado County Sheriff's Office reports a body was found in the search for Ed Cavanaugh.
The sheriff's office received a call about 11:20 a.m. today from a member of the search effort organized by the missing San Francisco teacher's family and friends. The caller reported finding a dirt bike matching the description of Cavanaugh's and a dead body.
"The location was off the established [off-highway vehicle] trail system in rugged brush-filled terrain west of Slate Mountain," according to the Sheriff's Department.
The body has not yet been positively identified. However, Cavanaugh's family members had gathered at the sheriff's office about the same time the call came in and were informed of the discovery.
They released the following statement through the sheriff's office:
"Our family would like to thank every single individual who has worked so hard to bring Ed home. We are overwhelmed with the kindness, generosity and support that has been shown by all in finding Ed. It truly is a testament to Ed’s extraordinary spirit and beautiful soul. Ed has touched so many lives in countless ways. We hope all who love Ed find comfort in knowing that his bright spirit is with us all during this heartbreaking time."
Original Post, July 30:
The afternoon of July 17, Ed Cavanaugh said goodbye to a buddy he'd been out riding dirt bikes with in El Dorado National Forest. Then he climbed back on his Yamaha and headed out onto a popular trail in the heavily forested hills near Georgetown. He hasn't been heard from since.
The 44-year-old San Francisco high school teacher -- a man with an incredibly committed community of family, friends, colleagues and students -- has been the subject of an intensive search for the past week. The hunt has included search-and-rescue teams from nine counties, a California National Guard drone and, yes, hundreds of people who know him personally or by reputation.
"Everyone loves Ed," said Cavanaugh's sister, Debbie Cavanaugh, during a break from the search Thursday. "People that don't even know him are showing love and support that's just mind-blowing. His strength and his spirit, and the person that he is, is what's driving everyone here."
The kind of person Cavanaugh is, friends say, is someone who would be prepared to deal with almost any emergency in the woods; a dynamic, creative and generous teacher at Downtown Continuation High School, a campus that serves students "who have not experienced success" in the city's other public high schools; and -- a cause for special concern as the search continues -- someone who suffers from Type I diabetes and needs insulin.
"Obviously, we're concerned about his medical condition," Debbie Cavanaugh said. But she added he was known to have been carrying insulin and food, "and we're confident that, given his skill set, he could survive and find a food source to keep himself going."
She added that potential leads turned up by Wednesday's drone flight -- the aircraft was equipped with specialized sensing equipment -- were being investigated Thursday by search-and-rescue dog teams.
When he ventured out on July 17, Cavanaugh was entering territory in El Dorado National Forest that he knows well: a vast wooded expanse of the lower western slope of the Sierra Nevada featuring an intricate network of trails.
Megan Windeler of San Francisco, a close friend of Cavanaugh, said the cabin where he was staying was a frequent retreat, a place to "ride dirt bikes and chill with the bros -- just chill."
The search for Cavanaugh -- who lives in San Francisco -- has continued in the air and on the ground for a week, involving aircraft from the California Highway Patrol and National Guard. Search-and-rescue units from nine counties, coordinated by the California Office of Emergency Services, have joined in. The El Dorado County Sheriff's Office says the effort has included a variety of off-highway vehicles, mounted teams, search dogs and "high-angle rope teams."
Then there are the droves of searchers from what amounts to Cavanaugh's extended family -- hundreds of people who have walked trails, scrambled cross-country, explored the area on dirt bikes and organized the complex logistics needed to keep the search going.
"Ed has friends from San Francisco, the whole West Coast area," said Debbie Cavanaugh, who lives on Long Island. "East Coast friends are flying in, we're rotating people in and out, trying to keep people fresh and focused and just saturate the area."
Hannah Sitzer, one of Cavanaugh's San Francisco friends, has helped organize the operation through a "Find Ed Today!" Facebook page. Tasks have ranged from providing food, water and physical comfort to people contending with heat, dust and poison oak to helping set up Internet hot spots and air conditioning and procuring current maps of the area.
"At first it was completely chaotic," Sitzer said, as dozens of Cavanaugh's friends traveled to El Dorado County without any clear idea of what was needed for the search or how to organize it. By Thursday, she said, the volunteer searchers had become "a well-oiled machine."
The need for supplies is nearly endless, ranging from allergy medication to Tecnu -- a preparation that helps cleanse the skin of poison oak oil -- to external mobile phone battery packs, binoculars and trekking poles. To help pay for expenses incurred in the search, Cavanaugh's friends have set up a crowdfunding account that has drawn many contributions: $58,628 from 547 donors as of midafternoon Friday.
To get an idea of why Cavanaugh inspires such strong feelings at Downtown and among people in a much wider circle, it helps to take a look at his main project as a teacher there.
Cavanaugh created and has directed Get Out and Learn at Downtown High, a program that emphasizes wilderness survival and includes a boat-building component. Here's a scene from a 2011 Bay Citizen piece that ran in the New York Times:
Ed Cavanaugh, the teacher who founded the program, collected the students’ cellphones to minimize distractions, then reviewed the day’s schedule: sailing, working on essays and constructing a 15-foot boat that the group has already spent seven weeks building on the dock.
The class took a few minutes to settle, cracking jokes and laughing.
“Here’s your chance,” Mr. Cavanaugh said, cutting them off. “If you’re not going to do anything, you can leave now.”
The group got quiet.
“A week from today, we’re launching this boat,” Mr. Cavanaugh continued. “Whether we’re finished or not, we’re putting it in the water. You guys know how to swim, so it shouldn’t be a problem if it doesn’t float.”
When the laughter subsided, Mr. Cavanaugh drew the students’ attention to a board that displayed the day’s tide schedule and a quote from Lady Bird Johnson: “Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.” ...
... Mr. Cavanaugh said he related to some of the students’ aversion to traditional classroom learning.
“I’m certainly more engaged when I’m building something,” he said. “I’m not trying to make backpackers or boat builders out of them, just to show them that there are applications to the academics. We use boating to teach physics.”
Cavanaugh's teaching is coming into play during the search in the Sierra, said Sitzer, the "Find Ed Today!" organizer in San Francisco.
"A lot of his old students are out there looking for him," Sitzer said. "They're using the skills that he taught them. If you think about this in another way, he's getting everyone out to do what he loved -- he got all his family and friends and his students to get together outside."
Sitzer and Cavanaugh's sister, Debbie, both imagine how he'd be approaching the search for a friend.
"If you were lost, he's the one you'd want looking for you," Sitzer said. "He's the one who would go to the ends of the Earth. He's the one who's in the best shape. He's the one with the best wilderness skills."
"We're here indefinitely until we bring Ed home, because he would not stop if it were us in his shoes," Debbie Cavanaugh said. "... We just want to keep going until we can say with confidence that we have scoured every inch of this forest."