Rescued California camper says she fled stranger with knife

60-year-old ran to escape him, got lost

By Susan Scutti, CNN
KPIX via CNN

Sheryl Powell, 60, of Huntington Beach, disappeared Friday near the Grandview Campground in the Bristlecone Pine Forest area after taking the family dog for a bathroom break while her husband moved their Jeep, according to the Inyo County…

(CNN) - Sheryl Powell, who went missing in a California forest for four days, said she was threatened by a bald man who had a knife, the Inyo County Sheriff's Department said.

The 60-year-old from Huntington Beach and her dog went missing in Inyo National Forest, sparking an exhaustive search by authorities.

During that time, she said she was approached by a stranger who threatened her and her dog with a knife and made a sexual remark, the sheriff's department said. Powell ran away and got lost.

The department asked for the public's help in identifying the man, who was described as a white male with "tanned skin, potentially with a Southern accent, around 50 years old," armed with a 6 to 8 inch bladed knife with a dark colored handle.

"Now that Mrs. Powell has been rescued and is back with her family, our primary concern is public safety," Inyo County Sheriff's Investigator Shane Scott said. "Short of Mrs. Powell's eyewitness account of the suspect, there have been no other reports of someone matching this description or incidents reported in Inyo County that are similar to this."

On Tuesday, Farrah Powell, her daughter, told HLN's Lynn Smith authorities are looking for the man.

"It's scary to think about the fact that he's still out there," she said.

Vanished!

Sheryl Powell disappeared Friday near the Grandview Campground in the Bristlecone Pine Forest area of Inyo National Forest after taking the family dog for a bathroom break while her husband moved their Jeep, according to the sheriff's office.

The man who threatened her with a knife was "a big guy -- burly, bald-headed, tan-skinned," Powell told NBC's "Today" show on Tuesday morning: "I was told do what he wants and he'll refrain from using the knife on us. It scared me enough to act pretty docile and let him think that I was gonna go along with him."

Given "a chance" to escape, she took off with her dog and ran, she said: "And he was pursuing me. But I was only concerned about that for the first day. I never saw him again after the first day."

The sheriff's office said it was "grateful that Mrs. Powell and her dog were found alive and well.

"Our office is actively investigating the circumstances surrounding her disappearance. We have no further information at this time," the sheriff's office said.

How to survive

After the first day, she concentrated on "how to get through this... how to get water, how to get back to my family," she told NBC.

Powell's son, Greg, told HLN that Powell did not have food or water with her when she escaped the knife-wielding stranger.

"She knew she had to find water, that was her main mission at that point," said Greg. Searching the area, Powell found "a tiny spring that she and our dog were able to drink water from," he explained.

The search included the use of helicopter and aerial equipment with thermal detection abilities that had been provided by California Highway Patrol -Inland Division Air Operations.

"So my mom could see the helicopters the whole time," Farrah Powell told HLN. "When she realized the helicopters couldn't see her, she knew she had to go to higher ground."

This was difficult because her mother was exhausted by trying to travel through the rough terrain, her daughter explained.

As a result, authorities discovered the family dog, Miley, before finding Powell herself.

Miley saves the day

Miley, a 5-pound yorkie poo, saved the day by running ahead of her owner.

"Miley started barking and the ATVs [All Terrain Vehicles] heard her bark," said Farrah Powell. The rescue team found Miley, alone, more than 2 miles from where they were last seen. "And shortly after, within an hour, they found mom nearby," said Farrah Powell.

Powell was taken to a local hospital for medical clearance after her ordeal, according to the sheriff's office, which described her as "resilient and strong but exhausted after being lost in an extremely remote area."

Powell's son, Greg, told CNN his mother was dehydrated, but doing well. "She's so strong," he exclaimed through tears.

'Miracle' rescue

Joe Powell, her husband, told NBC that "it's a miracle I got my wife back."

"Every day I was starting to lose hope. I became half a man. I couldn't imagine my life without her. I was so unhappy and so depressed but I had to keep my act together. I needed to do everything I could to help her," he said. "Yesterday I was the saddest man on the planet, today I am the happiest man on the planet."

The Inyo County Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook: "We are beyond grateful for the continued support from her family, local residents, visitors, and the media. We also cannot thank our assisting agencies enough for their amazingly hard work in difficult terrain throughout this 4-day search."

Farrah Powell, who had collected money for her mother's rescue, told HLN that all of it will be returned to the donors. Still, she said she "would love for that money to be donated" to search and rescue efforts. Multiple agencies, including China Lake Mountain Rescue Group, CA Rescue Dog Association and search and rescue teams from Fresno, Riverside, Tulare, El Dorado and Mariposa participated in the effort to save her mother's life.

When collecting donations, Powell's children had promised that any unused money would be returned. Greg said he'd also like to see the money contributed to other search and rescue efforts, but "we don't feel comfortable making that decision" on behalf of those who generously contributed.

CNN's Stella Chan, Sarah Moon, Christina Maxouris, Cheri Mossburg and Amir Vera contributed to this report.

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