The family of lost-and-found hiker Amanda Eller says she did not take drugs or purposefully set off on a spiritual journey when she got lost for 17 days in the Makawao Forest Reserve on Maui.
In a Facebook post Friday to address “community concerns” and “clarify some rumors,” the family also announced that its nonprofit to help with finding missing people would be called Search Tech Advisory Team and that the family would donate $10,000 of its own money to help get it started.
In addition, the family announced that the $77,000 remaining in the FindAmanda GoFundMe campaign would go toward the purchase of search and rescue equipment that will be used on Maui.
The 35-year-old physical therapist was found alive in the rugged forest May 24 after surviving on strawberry guava and stream water and suffering injuries while hundreds joined in the search effort.
Family spokeswoman Sarah Haynes said Monday that the family letter is aimed at helping to put to rest some of the rumors, misunderstandings and falsehoods that have spread about Eller, her ordeal and the search effort.
As part of the post, the family announced that the FindAmanda Facebook page would be disabled and comments turned off, starting with the Friday post.
Haynes said that while the vast majority of people engaging online are supportive, about 100 or so people continued to hammer Eller, the search and related efforts with harsh comments, conspiracy theories and falsehoods.
Among the untrue rumors: that the GoFundMe page was started on the day she was lost, May 8. It was actually started five days later.
Regarding whispers that Eller took drugs that contributed to her getting lost, the letter said Maui Memorial Medical Center had conducted a drug screen on her as part of standard intake blood work.
“She was tested for a variety of drugs and in all cases, the results were negative,” it said.
Haynes said some have latched on to the fact Eller described her ordeal as a “spiritual journey” to assert that she intentionally got lost.
“Amanda has stated a number of times that she did NOT set off on a spiritual adventure. She got lost on a hike. She was found with cellulitis, trauma wounds to her shins, soft tissue swelling on both ankles, severe sunburn, multiple abrasions on her body, and a fracture to the proximal tibia on her left knee. She should have brought her phone but she did not,” the letter said.
Some have criticized Eller for her handling of the media, but the letter said there was only one press event.
“Amanda was asked to give the media a conclusion to their incredibly helpful 3 weeks of coverage. The press conference was held to thank them, as well as her community, so she could then move forward with her healing. Perhaps it would have been better to wait awhile longer before she spoke, as she was not fully aware of what had happened outside of the forest, and was in considerable shock after the entire incident.
“During the press conference she spoke more about her spiritual experience than about the struggles she had in trying to get out of the forest. This caused a great deal of community concern as her choice to express her experiences as ‘spiritual,’ finding the positives for her in her situation, was not understood by all and led some people to become suspicious.”
Haynes said one of the rumors that reached levels of hysteria is the proposal by the Ellers to install cameras in the forest. The proposal, according to the letter, merely calls for installing motion-sensitive wildlife cameras at entry gates and parking lots only.
“We are sensitive to the Maui community and its connection to the land, especially the native Hawaiian community,” the letter said. “We are not donating cameras any time soon, and they would not be installed without support of the various entities that oversee the land. We simply wanted to let you know that we are following up on this idea, and exploring the possibilities.”
Regarding an additional rumor: “The Eller family/business has no affiliation with wildlife cameras, and we would not benefit financially from the wildlife camera initiative in any way.”
The letter does say that no refund requests were received from the 850 people who donated to the GoFundMe campaign. But Haynes confirmed Monday that one $50 refund request was received after the Facebook letter was approved and before it was posted.