Woman's Mom Killed in Jeep Accident as Dog Runs Off into Mountains. 17 Days Later, She's Told He's Alive (Exclusive)

Samantha Orr survived a tragedy and was reunited with her dog Bentley, a survivor himself

<p>TikTok.com/@heyasammy</p> Bentley on mountain (L), Bentley gives Samantha kisses as they


Bentley on mountain (L), Bentley gives Samantha kisses as they're reunited (R)
  • Samantha Orr and her dog, Bentley, were on a jeeping trip with their extended family when tragedy struck

  • The jeep, driven by Samantha's mom Jennifer, went off the road and rolled 600 feet down a Colorado mountain

  • Samantha mourned her mom after the accident, worried her dog had also been lost in the crash until 19 days later when they were reunited on the same mountain where it happened

Samantha Orr has a bond with her dog that's unlike any other.

In the summer of 2018, the then-21-year-old was enjoying the prime of her life. She was preparing to enjoy her senior year of college, had great relationships with her family and had gotten a dog: a Goldendoodle named Bentley.

Just two weeks before her 22nd birthday, Samantha decided to join her mom, Jennifer Orr, on a trip to Colorado to go Jeeping with her extended family. The mother and daughter shared a very close bond.

"My mom was my person in every sense. She was my best friend, most trusted confidant,  sounding board for creativity, and my safest place to bring anything and everything going on in my life," Samantha tells PEOPLE.

"We talked every day, often multiple times throughout the day. She never remarried after my parents divorced around 2000, and our bond was indicative of the immense one-on-one time I had with her throughout my entire life."

On the day of the outing, Jennifer drove as Samantha took photos and videos of their experience. Bentley was content hanging out in the backseat. The family's Jeep was on a mountain near Pueblo, Colorado, when Jennifer attempted to drive around a large rock in the road and lost control of her car.

"The day of the accident can only be described as an out-of-body experience. I felt like an outsider watching my own life unfold before me. I felt detached and in pure shock at what horrors had occurred, and unable to process the reality of what state my mom was in, let alone anything regarding my own body or experience," Samantha shares.

"It was as if the only way I would survive was by stepping out of my body because what I was experiencing was worse than anything I could’ve dreamt up in my darkest nightmares."

The Jeep slid down the mountain, briefly coming to a rest before continuing to fall a total of 600 feet. Bentley was ejected from the vehicle as it rolled down the mountain. Samantha was airlifted to receive further medical attention, but Jennifer was pronounced dead on the scene.

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Of her mom, Samantha says, "Anyone who knew my mom would attest Jennifer Orr lived out her life exactly as we all hope to be remembered in death. She exemplified compassion, empathy and intelligence and had the brightest sense of humor. She lit up rooms and her presence made others feel like the best version of themselves."

After being airlifted to the hospital, Samantha found herself with a lot of time alone with her thoughts. At that time, she didn't know her mom had not survived, though "subconsciously, some part of me knew she was gone."

At the accident site, family members had tried to calm Samantha down by assuring her they were tending to her mom and that they'd secured Bentley. It wasn't until her family rejoined her at the hospital hours later that she learned her dog had run off in the chaotic aftermath.

"In those hours, I was panicking. I was in pain, completely alone and the silence was slowly becoming deafening. I felt like I was going crazy. I needed to feel my feelings, I needed to sob, I needed to process everything that was happening and I did not feel safe to do so by myself," Samantha says.

"Reconciling my feelings was very difficult in those hours, so I did my best to shut them off in order to feel safe until I had my loved ones around me. I didn’t learn until my Colorado family arrived at the hospital that Bentley had actually taken off down the mountain after being ejected. No one had seen him in those following hours after the accident."

In the aftermath, community members sprung into action on the family's behalf. Helpless to the loss she was already coping with, Samantha says locals in the area worked with family members to get the word out about the missing dog.

Samantha recalls having hope that Bentley was safe despite others trying to prepare her for the worst.

"Some cautioned my optimism in fear that if Bentley did not survive, his death might send me into a worsening emotional spiral. But I saw how he was thrown from the Jeep and his ejection occurred on the very first roll. Knowing he was not caught in the path of the roll, I felt there was a strong chance he did survive," she says.

Samantha struggled with not knowing Bentley's condition. "I didn’t feel like I had any other choices to consider. Bentley was my second best friend, behind my mom. Losing both of them was a reality I couldn’t bear to imagine at that time in my life. So, I held loosely onto my hope."

During that difficult time, Samantha leaned on her dad to help her cope with all the unexpected changes she was facing.

"My dad was there for me in any way I asked of him, helping me with physical tasks, sharing the emotional burden, offering advice any time I needed it.  I am so grateful for his immense support."

It wasn't until 17 days after the accident that Samantha received word that Bentley had been seen in the mountainous area.

"When Bentley’s survival was confirmed, I was pure focus. My grief, my trauma, my injuries, they all took a backseat to strategizing to ensure I would be able to safely bring Bentley home," Samantha shares.

Despite a difficult road to bringing him home, which would involve navigating dangerous terrain, she recalls feeling "certainty" that Bentley was going to come home safely with her.

"I felt that events were unfolding before me exactly as God intended. It’s hard to describe that sensation; it was the only other time in my life I felt completely guided. And I listened."

Securing Bentley was no small feat. Those who joined Samantha in the hiking and climbing to reach him wanted to make sure their pursuit was safe.

"I had to be very careful with my thoughts during those hours on the climb. This is extremely dangerous terrain that is up thousands of feet in elevation. I did not realize prior to beginning the ascent just how trying the climb would be," she admits.

"At multiple points, I had fleeting thoughts that I may have put myself in another life-threatening situation on the same mountain that took my mom’s life, that I may very well experience something horrible here for a second time in less than three weeks."

Despite the physical and mental anguish — with Samantha climbing despite compressed vertebrae in her spinal cord — the group persevered. In all, it took over three and a half hours to get to a place where Bentley could approach her on his own. When he finally did so, it was 19 days — nearly to the hour — since the crash occurred.

"In those moments, I was extremely grateful for the people who made the ascent with me. The individual who first spotted Bentley that Thursday came with me. I would not have been able to successfully reach Bentley without the aid of that individual, who physically bore my weight at points, helped place my footing and lent me his hiking sticks. I am endlessly grateful for his assistance in making that climb. I quite literally could not have made it without him."

Seen in videos shared on her TikTok, Bentley was hesitant to approach her at first. Once he realized it was really Samantha there to rescue him, he was elated, covering an emotional Samantha in sloppy kisses.

"Bringing Bentley home felt like my first moments of safety since losing my mom — like a piece of me was finally able to breathe again, as I’m sure it felt for him. I now had an opportunity to be with someone who was my safe place in the darkest time of my life."

Bentley was brought to the vet upon his return home and although he needed to put some weight back on, he was otherwise unharmed from his 19 days on the mountain.

Samantha would come to learn the area Bentley got to was "every bit of remote as the Colorado mountains get."

"Even locals would tell me while Bentley was still missing that they would not stay and continue searching on the trail once sunset approached due to dangers present. Had Bentley chosen to stay at a lower elevation, he could have fallen easily victim to another predator. Instead, he chose to climb, to hunker in the rocks at an elevation that nearly no other large animals occupy other than mountain goats," she explains, noting there are "nearly no sources of shelter, water or food at that elevation."

Bentley stayed because the spot kept him safe while still maintaining a vantage point over the Jeep wreckage. Locals could hear Bentley bark as people approached and took things from the crash site.

"Many dogs would have wandered in any direction for any number of miles, but he chose to stay exactly where the accident occurred but high enough to be hidden from predators. I believe the wrecked Jeep anchored him and he stayed close to what he knew, close to the last place he saw his family," Samantha says.

"I think Bentley’s loyalty is what saved his life," she continues. "At that height, Bentley was able to keep a safe distance and a clear eye on the wrecked Jeep thousands of feet below. I believe he knew I would be back for him, and he did his part by staying put."

It's been over five years since the accident. Today, Bentley is joined by Buena, another goldendoodle, and Scout, a black Lab. He "gets along with them like a dream," though he does exhibit signs of anxiety to this day.

"I did not observe that behavior prior to the accident. It’s fairly minimal, but he will nibble on things if he’s feeling anxious, usually a blanket or the edge of a couch cushion — never damaging things, just an anxious tick," Samantha shares.

Bentley has been an "anchor" for Samantha as she's healed from the traumatic period over the years. "He has been by my side through it all, my only true empathetic observer. He experienced the accident just like me. He experienced his own traumas of being lost in the mountains, while I experienced the trauma of recovering physically and emotionally and suffering the loss of my mom. From the moment we were reunited, he has maintained his place right beside me through it all."

Samantha says she does "dread" what a future without Bentley will one day hold, but she tries to balance that by "soaking up every single moment I have with him," celebrating the dog as her "greatest blessing."

"Everyone who knows us can attest he and I have a very unique bond. I think my presence helped him heal from the trauma of having to survive on his own and how scary the moments of the accident had to have been for him as only a year-old puppy. I know for certain his presence has grounded me in my grief when I need it most."

In sharing her story on TikTok, Samantha has "been on an emotional rollercoaster," but has also been able to share with a community as she discusses healing.

"It’s scary to talk about something that is extremely vulnerable and sensitive in nature, and the idea of letting complete strangers in on the deepest parts of my heart was intimidating," Samantha says.

"However, it has also been extremely liberating and healing. I realized the more I shared that there were parts of my story that I had been denying my own healing around. I had kept some of my feelings and experiences locked up tight in the deepest part of my subconscious — whether because they were too scary, too big or someone else along the way told me I didn’t have the right to feel those things."

She continues, "I have been deeply moved by the response to my personal experience, the loss of my mom and the Bentley story. Grief is often an uncomfortable and unfamiliar topic for those who haven’t experienced it — which leaves those of us who have feeling alienated, particularly young people."

After years of feeling "alienated," Samantha is happy to have found "empathetic observers" to her story online.

"In considering this, I have actually decided to create a grief workbook, The Guide No One Wants, for people who find themselves in need of those things also. I am still in the process of drafting it, but it will include suggestions for everything from addressing the mental health aspect of grief to an overview of the logistics of planning a funeral, resources often needed to execute a will, etc."

Samantha hopes it will "offer general information and most importantly, support, that I myself desperately needed back in 2018 but didn’t know where to find."

Looking back, Samantha can't deny how August 2018 changed her life, but believes it has helped her develop into her best self.

"I believe this experience has made me a more patient and empathetic human. I catch myself being more present in the smallest moments, both with my loved ones and with the world at large; noticing the most average details as though they are what make life so rich. This experience has given me a look 'behind the curtain,' and though it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to navigate, I am grateful for the increased awareness, compassion, and gratitude it has afforded me."

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