10/1/13 - Almost exactly two weeks after her boyfriend, Jose Luis Mosquera, 33, was shot for seemingly no reason in the sport climbing haven of Ten Sleep, Wyoming, Ana Deaconu, 25, is dealing with a shock wave of medical bills, a vacation cut short, and utter confusion as to why something like this happened. "We don't know why this would have happened; all of the climbers and locals were so friendly," she says. "Everyone was so nice."
Deaconu and Mosquera arrived in the States from Ecuador on August 2 for a rock climbing trip, traveling to Tuolumne Meadows, California; City of Rocks, Idaho; and Wild Iris, Wyoming, before stopping in Ten Sleep. Deaconu and Mosquera were enjoying the dirtbag climbers' lifestyle, traveling from place to place and climbing every day. But on the morning of Monday, September 16, that all changed.
The couple was sound asleep in their tent, which was located in the first camping spot on Old Highway 16 at the bottom of Ten Sleep Canyon, when around 2 a.m., they were woken up by "a large object that hit our tent." Startled, they wanted to find out if it was something dangerous. "When we shined our headlamps outside the door of the tent, we identified a large tree branch that wasn't there before and determined that's what fell on the tent," Deaconu says. "We thought we could go back to bed, and that it was unlikely it would happen again."
A few minutes later—they hadn't fallen back asleep yet—an even larger object fell on the tent in the same spot. "This time it terrified us when the roof nearly collapsed and hit us. I screamed and wondered what was going on," she says. "It felt paranormal." At that point Deaconu thought it would be good to get out of the tent if there were loose branches falling, because it "seemed like it all had to do with the trees above us." Deaconu exited the tent first and went toward the car that was about 10 feet away on Old Highway 16. "We wanted to be in a safer spot to figure out what was going on."
When Mosquera got out shortly after Deaconu, she says, "there was a sound, which turned out to be a gun. It sounded like a gunshot, but not what I expected a gunshot to be since I've never heard one—except on TV." Mosquera fell back onto the tent, and "he wasn't sure at first what had hit him. Deaconu looked in the direction of the sound and saw movement in the trees not more than 30 feet away. Although she couldn't identify a figure, she definitely saw movement from where the shot came from toward the road, and then they heard a car drive off.
Deaconu approached Mosquera, and he pulled up his shirt to reveal a gunshot wound. She also noticed the second projectile, which was a large rock. "It was large enough that they must have thrown it from close by to hit the top of the tent, because the tent was about five feet tall," she says. "I would have had a hard time throwing this rock it was so big." Deaconu immediately got the car keys from the tent, and the couple went to the car and drove to Ten Sleep. Nothing was open, so they continued on to the emergency room in Worland, Wyoming, which is about 38 miles from where they were camping in the canyon.
Mosquera was admitted to the emergency room with a collapsed lung and several broken ribs, and once doctors stabilized him by draining his blood-filled lung, he was quickly life-flighted to a hospital in Billings, Montana, "because of its state-of-the-art trauma unit," according to Washakie County Sheriff Steve Rakness, who investigated the crime. Doctors found a bullet congruent with that of a .22-caliber gun, and X-rays showed the bullet was frighteningly close to his heart.
After a few weeks recovering in the hospital, Mosquera is flying back to Ecuador today, October 1, because it appeared that his wounds were healing well, and doctors approved him for travel. He is expected to make a full recovery. "The main part of his recovery is for the broken ribs to heal," says Deaconu. "That will take a few months." Deaconu will travel back to Ecuador this Saturday, October 5, at her planned departure time.
"At first Jose felt unlucky and questioned why this happened to him," his girlfriend says. "But after seeing how close it was to his heart and how bad it could have been, he feels really lucky and thankful." Despite this horrible event, the couple plans to return to climb in the U.S. in about a year. She emphasizes, "We had a really nice time; we want to come back to the U.S. and climb. We don't hold this against the community of Ten Sleep. It's one crazy person among plenty of nice people." Plus, Deaconu says, "Even though he can't climb at all right now, Jose is talking a lot about going back to Ten Sleep to climb his projects there!"
Law enforcement agents appear to be stumped, with no suspects and no clues as to why this happened, and they tried to convince the couple that it could have been a hunting accident. "We were disappointed in that conclusion; it seemed like some of the law enforcement agents had trouble getting the facts of the story right," Deaconu says, "and that could have impeded their investigation of the incident." Despite having no negative interactions with any climbers or non-climbing locals, Deaconu thinks there might be some local tension because climbers are taking over the area. Prominent climber Alli Rainey, who lives in Ten Sleep, had this to say, "This act of apparently random and unprovoked violence in Ten Sleep Canyon is both perplexing and disturbing—and very saddening, to say the least. I have faith in the local authorities and know they'll do the best job they can to resolve this and restore the sense of safety and freedom we've become accustomed to when we pursue outdoor recreation in this area."
Born in Romania, Deaconu came to the U.S. when she was 4 years old and went on to get a Masters of Earth Systems at Stanford University. She is a Fulbright Scholar studying agricultural cooperatives in Ecuador. Mosquera, born and living in Ecuador, teaches climbing classes and does a lot of rope-related rigging work, which he won't be able to do for several months because of the injuries he sustained. "Our biggest obstacle right now is that suddenly, Jose has incurred about $50,000 in hospital bills, and he doesn't have insurance," Deaconu says. "Right now we're figuring out what to do because in Ecuador medical expenses are free or very cheap, so you don't need insurance." The couple has set up a website to help defray the costs of Mosquera's expenses: http://joserecoveryfund.org.
"We know not everybody is a bad guy, and we've gotten a lot of strong support from people," Deaconu says. "It just seems unfair that you save up to travel to a foreign country, get shot, and now have to pay $50,000."