Author Reporting On Grand Canyon Murder Uncovered Crisis Of Her Own

Published: Tuesday, October 3, 2017 - 4:16pm
Updated: Tuesday, October 3, 2017 - 4:26pm

(Photo courtesy of Annette McGivney)
"Pure Land" by Annette McGivney
(Photo courtesy of Annette McGivney)
Japanese hiker Tomomi Hanamure was hiking to the Havasu Falls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation, when she was brutally murdered by an 18-year-old member of the tribe named Randy Wescogame.

As the Southwest Editor for Backpacker Magazine, Annette McGivney is used to writing about beautiful hiking destinations and telling people how they can enjoy the natural world. But in 2007, she got an assignment that pushed her in a new direction.

Japanese hiker Tomomi Hanamure was hiking to the popular Havasu Falls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation, when she was brutally murdered by an 18-year-old member of the tribe named Randy Wescogame. He had a history of drug use and low-level crimes, and the day he met Hanamure on the trail, he stabbed her 29 times.

"And so, all of a sudden, I found myself hiking down into Supai not to cover a hiking destination, but a gruesome murder," McGivney said.

McGivney may have started by reporting on this murder, but as she dug further and further into the lives of both the assailant and the victim — even going to Japan to spend time with Tomomi’s family — she felt a growing connection to them.

Both Randy and Tomomi had experienced childhood trauma, and, as McGivney uncovered their stories, it churned up nightmares and flashbacks that led to a crisis of her own.

The convergence of these three stories resulted in her new book "Pure Land: The True Story of Three Lives, Three Cultures, and the Search for Heaven on Earth."

I spoke with her more about the book, which was released this week, and what drew her deeper into this story, even as she felt it affecting her own mental health.

As part of her effort with the book, McGivney has also formed a nonprofit partnership with Grand Canyon Youth and the Northern Arizona University Family Violence Institute that seeks to fund wilderness trips for child victims of domestic violence.


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