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Volunteer searchers find bodies believed to be couple missing in Border fire

June 29, 2016

Two bodies thought to be those of a couple who lived on a Potrero property destroyed in the Border fire last week were found Wednesday by local residents who searched the grounds out of concern for the missing pair, residents said.

The two are believed to be Jim Keefe, known locally as “Barefoot Jim,” and his girlfriend, Kyrie, said Iris Gardner of Potrero. She did not know Kyrie’s last name.

She and other residents said they’d been asking the Sheriff’s Department for a week to look for the pair, but they met with resistance. Gardner said that she and others were told to stay off the property and that deputies couldn’t do a welfare check because they weren’t “invited.”

Resident Leann Mitsui created a Facebook page seeking volunteers to go out Wednesday and search anyway, Gardner said.

The volunteers went to Keefe’s home and found sheriff’s deputies there. They went around the deputies, hiking across a neighboring property to reach a hillside behind the Keefe home and found the bodies lying facedown amid rocks, Gardner said.

“It’s really unfortunate,” she said. “I kept hoping they’d turn up somewhere. It has been tremendously frustrating at law enforcement’s lack of interest.”

A Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday morning. A watch commander in the department’s communications center said he had no word about bodies found in Potrero.

She described Keefe and his girlfriend as “hippie-types” with long hair, who led reclusive lives on the property along state Route 94, east of a palm tree nursery also charred by the blaze.

The Border fire started near Potrero on June 19 and burned 7,609 acres. Five homes and 11 outbuildings were destroyed, and until Wednesday, the only injuries had been reported as minor, heat-related ailments to firefighters. The cause of the blaze, which prompted evacuations and threatened Lake Morena Village and Campo, remains under investigation.

Husband appeared to be shielding his wife as wildfire reached their home. Both died »

On the Facebook site for the search volunteers, Cheryl Reinhardt posted word about finding the bodies, saying:

“Last night I saw your post about the search for these people. I felt STRONGLY compelled to be a participant in this search. I didn’t really want to go, frankly, and even showed up late. But something kept pushing me. I know now it was to find them. I am not looking for recognition but more to put in to words this experience and perhaps some comfort for your community.”

Gardner said she and others had taken food and water to several dogs that had remained on the burned-out property where the couple lived. The county Department of Animal Services captured one loose dog, but others had eluded them. Gardner said county officers also brought some food out and a cage in which one dog was trapped as of Wednesday morning. 

Animal Services Deputy Director Dan DeSousa said that traps were set out Tuesday and that officers would continue trying to capture the animals and bring them to a shelter for care. He said his office would work with the Medical Examiner’s Office to determine what the couple’s next of kin wants to do with the dogs.

Repard writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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