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Wounded ranger living 'dream job,' wife says

Published November 25, 2010 10:28 am
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Wendy Young says there is nothing about being a Utah State Parks ranger that her husband, Brody, doesn't love.

The mother of three young children spoke from a Grand Junction, Colo., hospital Wednesday, where the 34-year-old Young remained in serious condition, fighting for his life. The river ranger was shot at least five times during a routine parking-lot check at Poison Spider Mesa Trailhead near the couple's Moab home Friday.

"This is his total dream job," Wendy Young said. "He thinks it's the best job in the world. Brody is the nicest guy ever. No one knows anyone who hasn't met Brody and liked him. He tries hard to be nice and always makes everything fun."

Young may have been trying to help someone when he allegedly ran into Lance Leeroy Arellano, who has been charged with attempted murder and remains at large.

Tim Smith, a Utah State Parks supervisor, said Young was working to keep youngsters from drinking and using drugs the night he was shot.

"He was out driving and looking at campgrounds," Smith said.

Smith said it would be speculative to say what happened, but it would be unusual to see a car parked at Poison Spider Mesa Trailhead at night and that a ranger's first impulse would be to make sure everything was OK.

"That's not a place where people go camping," he said. "It's a rough, rugged trail, and we do search and rescue there often. It's tough for four-wheelers. In November, with it that cold at night, that would have been a real cause for concern. Somebody could have been hurt bad. So Brody looked into it."

Smith said Young was likely ambushed while heading back to the car to call in a license-plate number.

"He was in a gunfight for his life, and he is still fighting for his life," said Smith, who added the ranger was likely shot five or six times, though the medical staff isn't certain.

After five days of searching for Arellano, officials have significantly scaled back the manhunt.

The helicopters, which took over the skies earlier this week, were gone Wednesday.

Police believe the man who allegedly shot Young is dead or will be caught.

"If he's still alive, he will be found," said San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy, whose agency has been assisting in the search.

About 30 officers will keep watch over the rugged area where Arellano was believed to have been, said Grand County Sheriff Jim Nyland. A scaled-back search will continue "until we're satisfied that he may no longer be down there."

One of Young's friends said Young wasn't the type to initiate confrontation with the man, who was called "a cannon ready to go off" by his former father-in-law.

"That wouldn't be him at all," said Brian Merrill, of Western River Expeditions, where Young worked as a Colorado River guide for several years. "He is one of those super-personable people. Very upbeat. Always a smile on his face. Whoever shot him must have had something going on. It probably didn't matter which law enforcement officer walked up to him. It would have been the same result."

Smith said the shooting, the first involving a Utah State Parks ranger, hit many people hard.

"You always knew something like this could happen," said the longtime Utah State Parks employee.

Wendy Young said she has been amazed at the outpouring of love and support that she, her 6-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son have received from around the country. She was especially grateful to the alleged shooter's mother, whom she called amazing.

"She responded so quickly," Young said. "We really appreciate her. We can imagine she is going through tough times. She called in when she saw the shooting on the news and told them it was her son. I can't believe she did that. That would be really hard. We want her to know we are thinking about her and praying for her. It is really hard on them, too."

Wendy Young said many Moab residents knew about the shooting before she did.

"We're like a big family there," she said. "Everybody stuck their necks out and protected us. And the community of Grand Junction has been phenomenal. I can't put into words how great everyone has been. ... People across the nation who Brody helped 10 or 15 years ago have called."

Law enforcement agencies sent dozens of officers as well.

"We used every resource available that was offered to us," Nyland said as he announced a change of direction in the search effort Tuesday. "We just couldn't locate this individual."

Wendy Young met her husband when they both worked for Utah High Adventure in Moab in 1998. The couple went on a trip with a group of Scouts on the Colorado River and got into water fights. When he asked for her number and address, she said she had just moved to town and didn't have a phone or know her address. She told him they could get together "if you can find me."

The couple married in 1999. Both worked as river guides for the first five years they were married, rowing in the summer and going to school in the offseason. Their first son was born in 2004, and they only worked a few trips that summer.

Brody Young had told his best friend, Jeff Arbon, who was the Utah State Parks' Moab river ranger at the time, to call if Arbon ever left the job. He did; Young was hired in April 2006.

The couple love the river so much that Smith said it isn't unusual for the ranger to work four or five days doing river duty and then spend the weekend on the water with his family. Wendy Young is certain they will be back on the river next summer.

On Wednesday night, doctors were performing surgery on Brody Young's left arm. He was in stable but serious condition, according to a posting on his website.

"He is going to recover and everything is going to be great," she said. "Even though this happened, it's not going to change our outlook. We love Moab even more now than we did."


Aaron Falk contributedto this story. —


O Find out how you can help Brody Young at www.rangerbrody.org.






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