‘Our life will never be the same;’ Loved ones mourn loss of 2 men dead after Utah hiking trip

An area family is dealing with the loss of two men who died on a hiking trip out west.

John Walter, 72, of Kettering and Gary York, 65, of West Chester, were identified as the two hikers found dead in Buckskin Gulch in Kane County, Utah after a multi-day search, a sheriff’s office spokesperson said in a media release posted to social media Tuesday.

John Walter’s daughter and Gary York’s niece Corey Messer shared how the loss has impacted her family.

When asked about her father, Messer said it’s hard to talk about someone so amazing.

“He was just so willing to go above and beyond, not only for his family, but strangers, anybody, who knew him. He was a true man of God, friend, his loss is just tragic,” Messer said.

She said she is still in shock about the deaths.

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“You wake up and you think ‘Was that a nightmare?’ But no, this is reality,” she said.

Messer and her father were incredibly close, she said, and talked almost every day.

“His family was always first, and I knew that growing up that I was protected and first and loved,” she said.

She said Walter and York decided to take the trip after the death of her mother last month.

“Mom’s passing was hard and at the same time, it kind of relieved Dad to live the life that he had planned ever since retirement several years ago,” Messer said.

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So Walter and York decided to go on a “trip of a lifetime” she said.

They planned to go hiking for 11 days across four separate states.

Along the way, Walter was sending his daughter videos and pictures of the beautiful landscapes he encountered — until he didn’t.

Saturday was the last day family heard from the two.

A search started Sunday morning when search and rescue teams were notified another hiking group found a body. The body was first unidentified but launched an joint investigation between officials in Arizona and Utah, the spokesperson said.

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Pictures provided by the family later identified the first body recovered was that of York, Walter’s body was found Monday.

Officials believe a flash flood swept both men away and led to their deaths.

“The authorities in Utah did explain, no, you don’t know when flash floods are going to happen there could be a storm 20 miles out and you don’t have any idea and then it’s there, and they said it’s silent. There’s no rushing, there’s no waves, and you don’t even know it’s there until it’s there,” Messer said.

Messer said she wanted to share her family’s story because she doesn’t want people to forget the impact her father and uncle had.

“I think it’s important that we talk about hard things. I think it’s important that we allow vulnerability. You know, our story can help others heal, our stories can connect to other people that are struggling. I think people heal through stories that hurt and that are hard and I don’t want their names to not be mentioned,” Messer said.

She said the family will have services in Shelby County.