Family's agonizing search goes on
By Lee Cataluna
One Christmas, all four Vogel kids gathered at their parents' house at the base of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. Instead of snuggling up in a bed, Laura Vogel put a sleeping bag out on her parents' patio so she could sleep under the stars. When her family teased her about it, she just said, "Aw, it's so awesome to be outside."
Laura Vogel always loved being outdoors, camping, hiking, romping through all kinds of sports. When she said she was going to camp alone for the night near Maui's Pauwela Lighthouse, it wasn't out of character. But when she didn't reply to a text message from a friend that night, that was unlike her. When she didn't show up for a tutoring job the next morning, friends knew something was wrong.
"I probably have 100,000 theories of what happened and I'm driving myself sick with them," said her youngest brother, Tim Vogel. "All we know is she texted her friend that she had met people and then something went wrong."
Laura Vogel has been missing since Feb. 21. Her van was found the next morning near a homeless camp in the area, the keys still in the ignition. Part of her cell phone was also found. Over the past month, family, friends and law enforcement teams have searched the rugged coastline looking for clues. Divers have combed the water beneath the cliffs. Search dogs were brought in.
Last weekend, the Vogel family brought in a Texas company with an unmanned aircraft fitted with a high-definition camera to scan the area. The data from the drone was analyzed and another extensive search was conducted Sunday based on that information.
"It was a very successful search in the sense of we know where she isn't," Tim said. "But it was a heartbreaking day for me. I hiked up and down gulches for eight hours with a team of six people. It was brutal. Last Sunday was a disheartening day for me."
Vogel had been on Maui for six months, but in all, she had been in Hawai'i for almost nine years. She lived on O'ahu for six years and before moving to Maui, had been working on an organic farm on the Big Island. She has her master's degree in wildlife biology and was very interested in sustainable agriculture. On Maui, Vogel helped people set up organic gardens in their yards.
She had been a high school science teacher in Albuquerque, N.M., before moving to the Big Island. The Find Laura Vogel Facebook page is full of messages from her former students, many of whom call her their favorite teacher. "She made an impact," Tim said. Her friends describe a woman who was strong and adventurous, an avid athlete who always looked out for the slowest one in the group. "She made sure no one got left behind," one friend wrote. "She was selfless that way."
Over the past month, Laura's family, her sister and two brothers, have come to Maui in shifts. Tim has made two trips already. Her mom, Joan, 68, and dad, Dick, 73, traveled to Maui to help in the search efforts, but as the days wore on with no good news, family members urged them to go home to New Mexico.
"They're a wreck," Tim said. "They just came home after 2 1/4 weeks on Maui. We told them to go home. But what do you do? Leave without your daughter?"
After last weekend's thorough search, Tim said there's now a shift in focus.
"We've done as much as we think we can do with what we know. Now getting more information is most important," he said.
Laura's family and friends have been distributing posters of her throughout Ha'ikū and all over Maui. Tim walked up and down the road talking to neighbors and shopkeepers, asking hundreds of people for help in finding his sister.
"What a wonderful community, I have to say. It's such a beautiful community with such beautiful people," he said.
And while there has been an outpouring of support for the family, no one who may have seen her that night has come forward. There is a $10,000 reward for information that leads to finding Laura Vogel.
"Laura has a beautiful soul," Tim said. "Maybe if people knew that about her they would be more willing to say something."