Pinal County Sheriff's Office Criticized Over Handling of Search for Missing Superstition Mountain Hiker

Categories: Horror Story

Chris Hensley and Daughters.jpg
Chris Hensley with his daughters, Alexa and Alyssa, during a visit to the Grand Canyon.
"Is daddy living in the mountains now?"

It's a heartbreaking question that 5-year-old Alexa has been asking her mom, Tonya Hensley.

It's been nearly two weeks since members of the Superstition Search and Rescue (SSAR) traced Chris Hensley's steps into the Superstition Mountains and located his remains in an area known as No Name Canyon.

"He's in Heaven watching over you," Hensley says, trying to explain their father's absence to Alexa and 7-year-old Alyssa.

See Also:
PCSO Criticized Over Handling of Search for Missing Superstition Mountain Hiker Chris Hensley (Slideshow)


The search-and-rescue team that discovered Hensley's body worked alongside the Pinal County Sheriff's Office for more than two decades. But after Sheriff Paul Babeu was elected in 2009, he snubbed the all-volunteer team and started his own crew.

Although the PCSO and other search volunteers scoured the desert and mountains for more than 800 collective hours, SSAR members found the body about two hours after they joined the search early Friday.

It's a source of frustration for Tonya Hensley, one that prompted her to share her story even as PCSO officials maintain they conducted a tireless and selfless search.

See also: Paul Babeu Sticks It to Taxpayers and a Volunteer Rescue Team
See also: Body of Missing Lost Dutchman Hiker Possibly Found by Superstition Search and Rescue
See also: Superstition Search and Rescue Team Finds Human Remains in Same Area Where Missing Gold Prospector's Campsite Was Found in 2009

Tonya Hensley says she is grateful to all those who searched for her husband and risked their own safety in doing so. But she says PCSO officials managing the search left her feeling embittered because they didn't listen to her when she told them where or how high up the mountain they should search.

She believes that if they had, Chris would have been found much sooner and it would have shortened the days of agony the family experienced not knowing what happened to him.

Her youngest daughter still wants to save a place at the dining room table for her father.

When they get older, she will tell them that he fell about 200 feet off the flat face of a massive rock, that he slammed against at least two rock ledges before landing on the ground. She'll tell them that death investigators say that his broken ribs punctured his left lung. She'll tell him that he died unattended in the wilderness, laying on his back and laying partly under bushes.

***
Chris Hensley set out on the afternoon of April 15 for Flatiron Peak, a massive tower of rock in the Superstition Wilderness more than four miles from his mother-in-law's house in Apache Junction.

It was supposed to be a quick hike before heading home and having dinner and ice cream with the family. And, they had a full calendar the following day. The couple had stopped at Glendale Community College earlier in the day and both planned on signing up for classes. They were also planning a move from Mesa to Glendale.

Chris had just returned the day before from Indiana, where he had visited his mother for about a month. A born daredevil who loved rollerblading, extreme sports, and spending time outside, he was itching to venture into the wilderness. He planned to make it to the top of Flatiron Peak.

He'd done it once before his trip to Indiana and, Tonya recalls, it was an exhilarating experience for him.

At about 5:30 p.m. on April 15, he reached Shiprock Street and Geronimo Road, an intersection of rural roads just half a mile from the base of the mountain. He snapped a photo of the street signs, texted it to his wife and then called her.

They spoke for seven minutes -- the last conversation they'd ever have.

Hensley tells New Times that her breathless husband chuckled on the phone, telling her that he was out of shape. Chris explained that he'd cut through the yards of homes close to the mountain, borrowed a water hose to wet himself down and refill his bottle of water.

"He told me that if he was too tired to walk back home, he wanted me to pick him up at this intersection," she says. "He told me he could see the base of the mountain from where he was."

She and her daughters waited for a call, but it never came.

She texted him and asked him if he was okay. When he didn't reply, she sent another message, telling him that she was getting worried. Still no reply.

She loaded up the girls in her car and drove to the intersection where she hoped he would be waiting. Nothing. She drove around for two hours, up and down private roads. Nothing.

Her children grew restless, so she drove back to her mother's house and dropped them off. She returned to the intersection and waited in her car. It was dark, so she kept her foot on the break so Chris could see the red lights and know that she was waiting.

When her desperation and fear peaked, she drove to a nearby police station. The building was closed. She pounded on the doors and honked her car horn, but no one responded. She looked on her GPS and found the next closest station about 20 minutes away. She got there and it, too, was shuttered for the night.

She called her mom and asked her to find a phone number for a law enforcement agency. Tonya ended up on the line with the Pinal County Sheriff's Office dispatcher.

"Is this an emergency?" the dispatcher asked.

"Yes, it is. My husband is missing," Tonya says she told her. "He went hiking and he hasn't come home."


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32 comments
anewday
anewday

The PCSO was given all the same detailed information that the SSAR team received. This was a part of our frustration, in why they (PCSO) weren't looking where Tonya kept telling them to. We just kept getting excuses. We were told how they use a computer generated mathematical system that narrows down probability of a certain area. So they kept searching that same area (for days), ignoring Tonya's pleas to search where Chris said he was going and how. "It's to dangerous, he couldn't make it, our system", blah blah blah. Why wouldn't they just listen? Now, to add insult to injury, they deny what we "know" they were told, and told repeatedly? Unbelievable.! When you totally fail at something so important, at least have the decency to admit it and don't accuse a grieving widow of withholding information that could of helped find her missing husband. That is worse than incompetent, ridiculous and reckless, that is just insane.

Tommy_Collins
Tommy_Collins

Honestly, isn't it time for the Pinal shurf to grow up and start partnering with other agencies to provide the best possible public safety product to citizens?

Imagine how successful they could all be if PCSO were to partner with SSART instead of wasting precious time and human resources to prove some point. 


PabloDroopus
PabloDroopus

PCSO needs to find another hobby. 

Holding Babeu campaign signs and S & R aren't working well for them.

The "Messing" legacy carries on even after he was transferred out.

robert_graham
robert_graham

This article says: "The search-and-rescue team that discovered Hensley's body worked alongside the Pinal County Sheriff's Office for more than two decades. But after Sheriff Paul Babeu was elected in 2009, he snubbed the all-volunteer team and started his own crew."

Why should you care as you don't seem to favor posses. Would you criticize MCSO too if they abandoned their volunteer posse?

Just shut the hell up!

logicman
logicman

Is this article suggesting that a government ran program is not competent and inefficient???  WHAT??!?!?!?!

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

Here is what I don't understand.

SSAR has proven over the years beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are experts in tracking and recovery, so why wouldn't a supposedly professional Law Enforcement agency that is truly interested in helping, not use them? 

They are a volunteer organization, so I don't understand why with proper agreements/paperwork, their would be any insurance concerns. That is nothing more than an excuse.

The fact that PCSO refuses to use them, insisting on going it on their own, shows they are not interested in actually helping people, instead they are interested in the publicity and the credit - aka, politics at the expense of the citizenry.

Booboo is sure doing a great job... at following in Joe's incompetent glory hounding footsteps 

Arizona deserves competent law enforcement, not the incompetent racist keystone cops we have now.

donaldrudd
donaldrudd

been there-done that A FEW TIMES

david_saint01
david_saint01 topcommenter

sounds like paulie boi is taking notes from Arpaio..probably billed the tax payers for the 800 hours, and really didnt do squat..

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

@anewday  

I gather from a few specifics in your comment that you are related or close to Chris and Tonya. 

I am very sorry for your loss, it should not have happened in the manner it did.

I hope you can and will keep talking about this and PCSO's incompetence, criminal incompetence, so that no one else has to die due to PCSO's ego and ineptness.


Tommy_Collins
Tommy_Collins

@JoeArpaioFan Your pupils are once again horribly retracted, JAF. You need to seek medical assistance immediately. DON'T look in the mirror.

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

@JoeArpaioFan SSAR is not anything like Joe's octogenarian posse. These are seasoned volunteers who are very good at what they do. Proof is in the results of their searches.

dethompson112
dethompson112

@JoeArpaioFan

This is not about Posses. This is about getting all the resources in the field to find those who are overdue, lost, injured or deceased.

This is about serving the Citizens and visitors who enjoy the Superstition Wilderness to the best of the County Sheriffs Ability and available resources to him under:

A.R.S. -  11-441Powers and duties

8; C. The sheriff shall conduct or coordinate within the county search or rescue operations involving the life or health of any person, or may assist in such operations in another county at the request of that county's sheriff, and may request assistance from any persons or agencies in the fulfillment of duties under this subsection.

This is nothing but Politics costing needless suffering of citizens and visitors alike!

Search And Rescue no matter the group or agency is about helping others! It is not about stroking Egos or endorsing Candidates!

Search and Rescue is not about what group or Agency is better, it is about getting Searchers in the field no matter their affiliation! 

Tell me if you have a carry out which is better 6 people or 20 people? 

More people, the more areas can be searched!

Does it really matter when they all have at least basic training?

SSAR far exceeds the Basics, Just as C.A.M.R.A., S.A.R.A. and the PCSO SAR Posse !

At this stage it is only Sheriff Paul Babeu's Political Agenda to not pick up the Phone and ask for more searchers in the field!


Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

@JoeArpaioFan  

A search and rescue group is not a posse you ignorant twit

There is a huge difference, but it takes intelligence to understand that, which explains why you don't understand it, you have no intelligence.

eric.nelson745
eric.nelson745 topcommenter

@david_saint01 I got the impression that Joe disowned Pauley when he got kicked out of the closet. That their close relationship was no more.

anewday
anewday

@Flyer9753 @anewday  

Thank you, I am her mother. I also told them myself where he was going and described the exact location. I wish no ill will on anybody and we do appreciate everybody who helped search. But the truth is the truth. The issue about the insurance was told to Tonya and myself by the female officer when she informed us that the night searches were going to stop. Somewhere between that conversation and the media print, facts have been distorted, along wit other facts. We can only speak for ourselves and our own experience, and wish no one would have to go through the needless torture like we did, of waiting days on end, when an answer was only two hours away. We were denied a final goodbye because so much time was wasted and it was no longer possible. It is frustrating. Setting the record straight does not indicate that there is not forgiveness. But the truth stands and will remain, regardless of false statements from others.

yourproductsucks
yourproductsucks

@Flyer9753 @JoeArpaioFan Search and Rescue "groups" are the definition of Posse, actually.  It is the constitutional responsibility of the Sheriff's Office to provide a Search and Rescue element for their respective county.  Search and Rescue volunteers work under the auspices of the Sheriff''s authority and command. 

So, it's you who's shown ignorance...

robert_graham
robert_graham

@Flyer9753 @JoeArpaioFan Oh yes it is basically the same thing.  But speaking of posse's, why wouldn't you favor them protecting our schools at little to no cost to taxpayers or would you rather use paid officers at of course the taxpayers expense or would you rather leave the schools vulnerable with no protection at all?

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

@yourproductsucks @Flyer9753  

You know, there is another aspect to all this that you are clearly missing, in favor of spin and covering Booboo's ass

SSAR has a 30+ year track record of safe, professional and successful rescues.

You try to paint the picture of SSAR having the ego. 

Isn't it really the ego of a sheriff, with little if any experience in SAR operations to insist that a professional organization with a proven and successful 30+ year record bend to HIS way? Shouldn't he be going to them to tap that experience?

That's what professionals who truly are interested in serving the public do, rather than insist that he knows better even though he does not have anywhere near the track record that SSAR has.

Stop spinning and just admit you are wrong. For once show you have some ethics and intelligence instead of just continuously trying to cover Joe or Booboo's ass no matter what the facts say.

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

@yourproductsucks @Flyer9753  

Love your revisionist history and assumptions there. Nothing in that press release indicates anything about ego, it indicates a PROFESSIONAL organization that rather than have a public pissing match, decided to be professional adults, instead of glory hounding fools like PCSO, who loves their public pissing matches.

Keep in mind they (SSAR) are free and much better at doing the job than PCSO has ever done, past or present. Their doing the better job has actually saved Pinal county taxpayers over $7M in the 30 years they have been doing this... but no, we can't use them per Booboo, unless they are part of the posse, with the weak excuse from Booboo that it's because of insurance, even though insurance never cared in the 30 years prior... but of course, it's because of their egos....

Spin spin spin some more YPS, it's all you are good at.

rainskywolf
rainskywolf

@yourproductsucks @Flyer9753   They pulled away due to unsafe practices of PCSO to the point of one search that was done a deputy pointed a gone at the searchers and victims saying he needed his scope to see yet binoculars were right there for him to use but he didn't.  One of the rescuers was previous Marine sniper who looks at things differently and he caught the gun pointing at them.  Because of that incident with the Moron Deputy it sent that searcher into flashback mode.  When SSAR filed for a criminal investigation it came back as unfounded and the investigation was dropped due to "TIME CONSTRAINT" by the Sheriff Babue which actually can't be done legally.  Serious cover-up happened and that was when SSAR decided to stand down due to unsafe practices because the Moron Deputy that pulled that gun was still the coordinator for all searches.

Babue is hurting the tax payers of this county because he isn't using available resources and costing the county big money besides the fact that he is totally disregarding the help to these hikers

anewday
anewday

@Flyer9753 @anewday  

Info on a fund is set up, and listed at the end of the last page, of the article posted here. Thank you for asking.

anewday
anewday

@Flyer9753 @anewday 

Yes, logically, if their hands were tied due to insurance issues (though I don't know why they were able to go out at night before that, as the risks were the same) It would make sense to utilize all available resources. We just moved to AJ and were unaware that there were other search and rescue teams willing and able to aid in the search. It wasn't until family members out of state figured it out. We were shocked and felt betrayed that this valuable information was withheld from us. We should of been made aware of this service, rather than being led to believe that everyone available was already searching.The SSAR team has a flawless record of injuries, from what I have learned, and more than capable of the job. Their effort brung comfort, while the other displayed incompetence and created unnecessary grief for many people.

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

@anewday @Flyer9753  

Please do pass my thoughts and best wishes on to Tonya and the rest of the family. I can only attempt to imagine what they and you are going through right now and I am sure my attempt falls far short of reality.

If you do not mind, a comment regarding the insurance.

1. thanks for setting the record straight.

2. In my mind, if (not doubting you, doubting the officers statement) there are insurance issues with Posse members, who are part of the PCSO organization and therefore under their insurance, operating at night is simply even more of a reason to continue to allow a separate volunteer organization to do the job that they are obviously better at, since it then relieves the insurance burden on PCSO. 

No matter what, this should not have happened on so many levels.

Is there anything the family is needing that the community can help with? Or a fund setup to help them out if needed?

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

@yourproductsucks@Flyer9753@JoeArpaioFan

pos·se  /ˈpäsē/

Noun

  1. A body of men, typically armed, summoned by a sheriff to enforce the law.
  2. The body of men in a county whom the sheriff could summon to enforce the law.

So they are not the definition of a posse, since they are unarmed and are not there to enforce the law.

Once again, the one showing their ignorance is you.

oh, and btw - booboo told the SSAR members he was not interested in their help and started his own SAR team instead - your attempt at spin... DENIED by the facts

Flyer9753
Flyer9753 topcommenter

@JoeArpaioFan@Flyer9753

pos·se  /ˈpäsē/ 

Noun

  1. A body of men, typically armed, summoned by a sheriff to enforce the law.
  2. The body of men in a county whom the sheriff could summon to enforce the law.

So, according to the definition the SAR volunteers are not a posse, and 'basically the same thing' is not the same thing, otherwise you would not need to qualify your answer with "basically"

Nice attempt to change the subject here but just like everything else you do, it fails miserably

rainskywolf
rainskywolf

@yourproductsucks @rainskywolf   Just to let you know.....as you say OUR group, which I am not a part of is very loyal to the citizens  STATEWIDE and will go anywhere to help.  There is NO ego on SSAR Tean.  It is the Sheriff that has the ego along with his BIG DICK.  He is the one that wants the spot light,  He is the one that stated his OWN S&R posse Team instaed of leaving things like they had been with many sheriff's before so if it is any one with the ego problem it is BABUE

yourproductsucks
yourproductsucks

@rainskywolf You guys knock yourselves out working on those critical mountain rescues inside the Apache Junction City limits.

It seems your complaint reference the deputy is legitimate.  It's also obvious your groups egos and pride are your ultimate downfall.  All too often groups like your's become too big for their britches and think teh wolrd can't revole without their existance..  That has obviously been proven otherwise.

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