A booby-trapped home, a burning truck and an armed, suicidal father high on methamphetamines sparked Idaho to issue an AMBER Alert and initiate a massive search in Idaho and Nevada. Joshua Dundon picked up his six- and seven-year-old daughters from school on the morning of May 10, 2017 and then disappeared.
The following day hikers saw a 2005 Chevrolet Silverado rushing up a hill in Eureka County, Nevada. When they hiked back they called 911 after hearing a gunshot, discovering the truck was on fire and witnessing a man talking to a child hidden in the trees.
Boise Police Department notified the public about the missing father and two endangered daughters, Jaylynn and Madison, on May 13. Officers later received information Dundon had been in a methamphetamine-fueled state of paranoia. They also found a house filled with holes in the walls and that had been booby-trapped to start a fire by leaking natural gas.
That same day the Eureka Sheriff’s Department determined the truck belonged to Dundon. Seeing news coverage of the missing girls, they contacted the Boise Police Department.
On May 15, Idaho AMBER Alert Coordinator Dawn Peck of the Idaho State Police received a request from the Boise Police Department to issue an AMBER Alert. Peck determined the case met the criteria for an AMBER Alert.
“The taking of the children without notice, the evidence at his home and the burnt-out truck caused the investigating agency to request the AMBER Alert and I agreed to do so,” said Peck. “Although under the national guidelines the girls were missing for well over 12 hours, in Idaho we err on the side of the children and issued the alert because of the evidence in the case.”
Peck authorized the AMBER Alert at 1:13 p.m. and it was issued at 1:43 p.m. The alert was sent to law enforcement, broadcasters, highway signs, Emergency Alert System, the state lottery system and to people who signed up to receive alerts by email.
Boise Detective Angie Munson had asked Nevada to also issue an AMBER Alert but the state said it did not meet its criteria because authorities were no longer looking for a vehicle.
“Our public information officer contacted the media in Nevada and Utah and sent them a news release requesting coverage of the missing girls,” said Munson.
That same day Eureka County Sheriff’s Office organized search and rescue teams including searchers on four-wheelers, horseback and in the air. They found survival gear, weapons and ammunition but not the father and two girls. Authorities became more concerned because temperatures were dropping and it was starting to rain.
“We were fearful for the safety of the children,” said Peck. “There had been witnesses to the truck being burnt and they heard a child, but we had no idea where they went from there or if the children were hurt.”
At 5:30 p.m. an adult male walked into a ranch wearing cutoff sweat pants and a hoodie. He told the owners he needed help. Vera Baumannn told KTVB her husband recognized the man as the suspect in an AMBER Alert and called the sheriff’s office.
“He was very cold, he was hungry, he was thirsty and he could hardly walk because he had walked in about two miles,” said Baumann. “He said he left (his daughters) behind. He knew they were not going to make it so he walked in for help.”
Searchers started searching the area around the ranch and found the girls 90 minutes later hiding under a tree. They were hungry, bruised and suffering from frostbite. Police had been yelling for the girls but the youngest daughter was so terrified she was afraid to speak. The older daughter finally called out for help.
Authorities learned Dundon told his daughters their house had been burned down, their dog had been poisoned and their mom and the police were trying to kill them.
“The girls were incredibly strong and showed great courage to survive in the conditions they faced,” said Eureka County Sheriff Keith Logan. “We would like to thank all of the agencies, personnel and citizens who were so instrumental in in helping locate and recover these young ladies.”
The suspect was treated at a hospital and booked into jail. The two girls were also hospitalized and received treatment for exposure, kidney failure and frostbite. The AMBER Alert was canceled at 10:02 p.m.
Detective Munson said this case showed her how AMBER Alerts can be a powerful tool to find abducted children. “It not only helps with the recovery of the children, but also–as in this case–identified the path traveled and provided additional leads for the investigation.”
Boise Police issued this statement from the victim’s family. “They say they are grateful to the community for sharing information while the girls were missing and for their thoughts and prayers. They also want to thank the Nevada law enforcement officials and community members who helped (in the) search.”
Peck said she is glad she made the call to issue the alert. “Authorities said the girls would not have been able to survive much longer in the conditions. Do not adhere to the national guidelines so closely that you pass an opportunity to save a child.”
She also urged AMBER Alert coordinators to know their counterparts in neighboring states and how to contact them. “The only challenge and lesson learned from this case has to do with keeping our list of coordinators and procedures for requesting a state to rebroadcast our alert up to date.”
Idaho has significant experience with issuing AMBER Alerts for other states. Since the state started its child abduction alert program in 2005, Idaho has issued 30 AMBER Alerts, including reissuing eight alerts from other states.
Dundon accepted a plea deal in September 2017 and admitted to felony custodial interference. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in November 2017, including eight years before being eligible for parole.