James Kim

Here’s the short version: Last fall, a CNET editor named James Kim died in the wilderness of southwestern Oregon. He, his wife, and their two very young daughters had gotten stranded on a remote road in a snowstorm, and after nearly a week of waiting for rescue, he set off on foot to find help and died of exposure two days later, the same day his family was found and rescued. (There’s a detailed timeline and map here.)

When the story about a family missing in Oregon hit the airwaves during the week after Thanksgiving, it grabbed the public’s attention and didn’t let go. Several of the more tech-y blogs I read highlighted James Kim’s job as a CNET editor. My interest in the story was initially piqued in part because had I lived for a year not too far from where searchers were focusing their efforts (the route the Kims were supposed to take to reach the coast is one I followed many times myself). I hoped they would be found alive and safe, and was saddened when that wasn’t the case.

Dutch at Sweet Juniper, who met James Kim once, wrote about that meeting and how he felt about last fall’s events. The whole post is beautifully written, and the description of the choice James and his wife made for him to leave in search of help is especially poignant:

It breaks my heart to think of that moment, 7:45 a.m. last Saturday, when you parted from your family. I am reminded of Hector, standing with Andromache at Priam’s gate, his infant son there fearful of his horsehair plume, knowing his duty as a man, but also knowing he might never see them again. He spoke these words to her sorrow:

Fix’d is the term to all the race of earth;
And such the hard condition of our birth:
No force can then resist, no flight can save,
All sink alike, the fearful and the brave. [transl. Pope]

This mention of The Iliad is gut-wrenchingly perfect. How must it feel to say goodbye to your family, then literally walk away from them, knowing that you were very likely not going to see them again? It’s not the same as a soldier’s farewell before shipping off to duty, for soldiers often leave with a reasonable expectation of returning home again. But for Hector—and James Kim—such a departure is into the arms of near-certain death.

I cannot imagine how wrenching this decision was for the Kims. (The Internet can be a nasty place, and of course there are forum trolls who heartlessly dissect the Kims’ actions with all sorts of “should have”s and “shouldn’t have”s.) What would I do, I wondered, in the same situation? Could I walk sixteen miles in two days in freezing weather on snowy roads to try to find help? How would Jan or I decide who would embark on such a trip, leaving the other with our daughter?

Last fall I wanted to write about this, but when I started to write a post I didn’t know quite what to say. So I didn’t say anything. For a year it has haunted me, popping back into my thoughts every time I saw that unpublished draft post with a title but no content. Now, a year after the Kims’ tale reached its unhappy conclusion, it seemed time to put it to rest.

3 Responses to “James Kim”

  1. Chrison 12 Dec 2007 at 10:42 am

    Sadly lovely post – thanks for sharing it…

  2. Katie Jon 12 Dec 2007 at 1:11 pm

    I remember his story and was so saddened by it. The choices the Kims had to make were impossible but necessary. Thanks for the post Marsha.

  3. Rabbitchon 14 Dec 2007 at 9:11 pm

    I don’t have your email, but you’ve won a prize in the warshcloth drive. Would you drop me a line when you have a minute?