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Missing father's body found

After a long trek in the Oregon wilderness in search of help for his family, James Kim ended up a mile from their car.

December 07, 2006|Sam Verhovek and Lee Romney | Times Staff Writers

MERLIN, ORE. — Search-and-rescue workers discovered the body of James Kim on Wednesday, 11 days after the San Francisco man took a disastrous series of wrong turns here in Oregon's Coast Range while driving his family on a vacation trip. It was a grim coda to the miraculous rescue two days earlier of his wife and two young daughters.

Kim's body was discovered in the rugged, snowy wilderness just after noon Wednesday, four days after the 35-year-old Internet journalist had set out on foot in a desperate effort to seek help.

His wife, Kati, 30, stayed behind with Penelope, 4, and Sabine, 7 months, near the family's stranded automobile. The three were rescued Monday when a search helicopter spotted Kati Kim waving an umbrella.

Josephine County Undersheriff Brian Anderson said that James Kim had walked up to eight miles in "tremendously rugged terrain," dressed in sneakers, pants, shirt and a medium-weight parka.

Kim walked a circuitous route up the road he had taken in the middle of the night, but apparently abandoned that strategy and began climbing downhill. His body was found a little more than a mile from the car.

"It seems somewhat superhuman to me that he got as far as he did, given his lack of resources and the fact that he had barely anything to eat for nine days," Anderson said. "He was a highly motivated individual, trying to get downhill on this terrain and seek help."

Joe Hyatt, a member of the volunteer swift-water rescue team in Josephine and Jackson counties, also said he considered it amazing that Kim had walked as far as he did. "I would hope I could do the same thing in the face of my family needing help," said Hyatt, who had participated in the search.

Autopsy results were to be made available today. Authorities would not speculate on when Kim might have died.

In recent days, he would have faced heavy, wet fog and temperatures in the low 20s at night. He would have been wet from hiking in the soggy terrain.

Kim left at least one SOS note along the spur road. Written on a piece of notebook paper, it said the family was desperate for help, said Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings.

The death culminated a family vacation gone wrong after the Kims overshot an exit for the Oregon coast while traveling south on Interstate 5 late Nov. 25, according to the account Kati Kim has given authorities.

The search for the Internet editor and his family had captivated sympathetic strangers around the world who followed developments on a website launched by friends. When Kim's body was spotted by rescuers, a poster sent this encouragement: "They have called for the medivac chopper -- that could be a good sign. Continue to pray." But the good news did not hold.

Word of Kim's death brought a deluge of condolences. By midafternoon, guest book postings on the site had grown to more than 5,000. Friends and family closed ranks Wednesday and requested privacy. They had mounted a tireless effort to publicize the family's disappearance and marshal support.

"As friends we know that we did everything we could to help in the search for the Kim family, which is our only comfort now," Scott Nelson Windels, a college friend of Kati Kim's who had launched the website, wrote at 1:15 p.m., 30 minutes after James Kim's death was confirmed.

The intensity of the global response came in part due to Kim's role in the Internet. His stint with TechTV, an experimental cable and satellite network that showcased technology, made him an on-air celebrity. When the network was shuttered, Kim moved to CNet.com, where his reviews of digital audio technology and video podcasts on digital music won him a following.

At the headquarters of CNet in San Francisco's South of Market district Wednesday, the company canceled its holiday party, scheduled for Wednesday evening, and the building's 800 employees gathered in small groups to grieve.

CNet Networks Chief Executive Neil Ashe spoke of the loss.

"This has been a heart-wrenching experience for everyone involved," Ashe said. "The steps that Kati took to keep the kids safe and the steps that James took to bring his family to safety were nothing less than heroic."

Friends had described the couple as dedicated to building and nurturing their family life. "They were always happy to be together," Nelson Windels said.

They shared creative passions -- his for music and hers for design.

Kati Kim taught French until Penelope was born. When her first daughter was 2, she opened Doe, a Haight district boutique featuring a mixture of high-end fashion and hand-made goods with a forest theme.

Her other store, Church Street Apothecary, opened six months later in the Noe Valley neighborhood, offering holistic bath and beauty products, toys and other gifts.

Despite James Kim's CNet schedule and a pending book project -- about Microsoft's new MP3 player -- he helped Kati run the businesses, shuttling stock to the stores from the family garage and working late at night from home, said Church Street store manager Charlene Wright, 26.

"It sounds like they were really working very hard for the seven days they had together," Wright said earlier. "I don't think James would have left them unless he thought he didn't have a choice. I just wish he could have hung on for a couple more days."

*

sam.howe.verhovek@latimes.com

lee.romney@latimes.com

Verhovek reported from Merlin and Romney from San Francisco.

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