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2 Ohio Teenagers Charged After Log Fell Off Cliff, Killing Woman

2 Ohio Teenagers Charged After Log Fell Off Cliff, Killing Woman

Victoria Schafer stood in Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio on Sept. 2, taking portraits of six high school seniors near Old Man’s Cave.

For Ms. Schafer, a 44-year-old photographer, it was one of her favorite projects, according to friends. The setting was idyllic: The sprawling park in Logan, which is about 50 miles southeast of Columbus, features waterfalls, green groves and more than 30 miles of hiking trails.

A photo from that day showed six young men and women standing shoulder to shoulder, not quite ankle-deep in water, with a waterfall in the background.

That serene setting violently came undone after a “section of a tree” fell from a cliff, fatally striking Ms. Schafer, the authorities said.

Investigators found evidence that the fallen log was not, they said, “a natural occurrence.”

Weeks passed with no leads about what had happened. A $10,000 reward was offered for anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Then came a tip.

The authorities charged two 16-year-old boys with reckless homicide on Thursday in connection with Ms. Schafer’s death, the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

Image
Creditvia Catherine Muth

Investigators interviewed the two teenagers, which led to a confession, the sheriff’s office said.

The Chillicothe Gazette reported that one of the teenagers sent text messages to a classmate “stating he had done something serious at the park with another juvenile.”

Mary Mertz, the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which made the arrests and worked with sheriff’s investigators, said in a statement, “I appreciate the public’s valuable contributions to this case and the perseverance and determination of the investigators.”

The identities of the teenagers were not released because of their ages, the sheriff’s office said. They were being held at the Multi-County Juvenile Detention Center in Lancaster, Ohio.

The Gazette reported that the teenagers had a detention hearing on Friday during which they denied the charges.

The size of the log and the height from which it fell were not available on Sunday. Ms. Schafer, the owner of Victoria Schafer Photography, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Her death rocked Chillicothe, about 50 miles south of Columbus, where she lived. A memorial Facebook page detailed her love for her family, work and community.

“One thing I know to be true is this: Victoria would simply want the result of all this to be increased safety and awareness at all parks,” reads a post by the group featuring photos that Ms. Schafer took the day she died. “She’d never have wanted to put these kids’ lives — or any other person’s life — in danger.”

Ms. Schafer’s son John told The Dayton Daily News: “If there’s anybody that understands teenagers making mistakes, it’s my mom and me. If it was truly just some kids that didn’t know any better or were just being stupid kids, and not anything more than that, I think my mom would understand.”


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