A week has passed since a deadly earthquake devastated Nepal, and two Richland High School graduates are still waiting to learn the fate of their 19-year-old daughter and her friend who were backpacking through the Himalayan nation.
Rachelle Brown and Scott Meola video chatted with their daughter Bailey Meola about a week before the quake as she and Sydney Schumacher boarded a bus to take them to the trail head.
The couple have pieced together what the young women were doing in the days leading up to the quake thanks to information passed through contacts, but their whereabouts on the day it happened are not known.
“At some point, you just have to hope for life and opportunity,” Brown told the Herald in a phone interview.
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Social media has helped the families of both women connect and reach out for help in the search for their daughters. That effort also is bringing friends and family in the Tri-Cities who know Bailey Meola and her parents to offer whatever support they can.
“We’re going to be here for them,” said Shawnna Burke, a childhood friend of Brown’s. “Everyone I talk to is on pins and needles.”
Bailey Meola grew up on the west side of the Cascades, where her parents moved after high school. But she’s spent a lot of time in the Mid-Columbia, floating the Yakima River one recent summer and spending time with her grandmother and other relatives.
She and Schumacher, both 2014 graduates of Seattle’s Garfield High School, have been in Asia for months, part of a “gap year” journey before they headed off to college, Brown said. Bailey Meola had planned the trip for some time, inspired by an upbringing that valued other cultures but also one that stressed time in the outdoors and self reliance.
“She’d go up to Snoqualmie Pass and build snow caves and igloos (and camp),” Brown said of her daughter’s work with an inner city youth organization. “She wasn’t sitting on the couch with a Game Boy, she was outside building fires.”
Bailey Meola spent time in Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore and Laos before she and Schumacher headed to Nepal, inspired by a trek one of Schumacher’s brothers took there several years ago.
Specifically, they were going to trek the Langtang Valley, an area north of the capital city of Kathmandu. They were going to pack light, carrying only a few changes of clothes and some water, relying on teahouses along the trail for shelter and meals.
Other hikers who have made it out of Langtang have relayed information saying they’d seen the missing women in the days before the quake, even noting that Bailey Meola was struggling with altitude sickness and her asthma. While the girls may have been on the trail when the tremors started, they also could have remained in their last resting spot, given Bailey Meola’s condition and the cold and drizzly weather.
“That’s what we’re hoping they did,” Brown said, noting that there reportedly are a lot of survivors in that village.
Official information and reports have been scarce. The valley was hard hit by the quake, causing an avalanche that covered a large area 40 feet deep in rock, according to The New York Times.
A Friday briefing from the U.S. Department of State noted that there is no official count on how many Americans are missing in Nepal, but Bailey Meola and Schumacher are thought to be among three missing in the Langtang Valley. Four U.S. citizens are known to have died in the quake.
Brown and Scott Meola have teamed up with Schumacher’s parents to find information on survivors and call for more intense search efforts.
Brown specifically has been using her Facebook account to keep everyone updated and the families have launched an Indiegogo crowd-sourced funding drive to help their own search efforts. That campaign had raised more than $40,000 in just six days and paid for Schumacher’s two older brothers to head to Nepal to aid search efforts.
Burke learned Bailey Meola was missing through Brown’s Facebook. Though she and her family have only met Brown’s daughter a few times, she said she is a remarkable woman that was raised “to be in the moment.”
“I only hope to raise my own daughter in the fashion they raised Bailey,” Burke said.
So far, Burke’s efforts and those of others in the Tri-Cities have been to contribute financially to the search effort, network with others who may have connections in Nepal and pray.
“I feel it’s been one of the hardest things to endure to see your good friend and family suffer in not knowing where their child is,” she said.
And Brown said the support for her family and their efforts isn’t just digital. She and her husband were invited to attend a local Buddhist temple near Seattle after the quake.
While there, she noted that one of the offerings for the temple had a note on it that said “Richland Wat,” identifying it as from the temple off Arena Road.
“I know our friends in the Tri-Cities care for us,” she said, choking up.