Five years to the day after Brody Young came home from a lengthy hospital stay, a co-worker told him something he wasn’t sure he’d ever hear: Someone found the remains of the man suspected of shooting him nine times in November 2010.
“I was really emotional,” he said. “I didn’t think that it was going to get solved; I thought that it was going to go on forever.”
While media outlets around the state were clamoring to hear Young’s reaction to the news, the former Utah State Parks ranger kept quiet until the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner could confirm that the skeletal remains belonged to suspect Lance Leeroy Arellano.
When that confirmation finally came through on Wednesday, Jan. 6, Young returned the next day to the same trailhead where authorities say Arellano tried to kill him for no apparent reason on Nov. 19, 2010.
He repeatedly thanked the community and everyone who came forward over the last five years to show their support. Young expressed his condolences to Arellano’s family, but he said that he is grateful for the closure that the discovery brings to his life.
“Everyone deserves to live, no matter what they do, so I’m sad that someone had to die, but I’m also glad that I’m still alive,” he said. “I did the right thing that night just defending myself.”
Caleb Shumway and his 15-year-old brother Jarom found Arellano’s remains just before Christmas Eve in a cave near the Intrepid Potash Mine. As someone who previously discovered the remains of two suicide victims along the Wasatch Front, Caleb Shumway took it as a foregone conclusion that they found the body they were looking for.
“I never doubted it was Arellano,” he told the Moab Sun News. “I was down there with the body, and I handled the firearm that shot Brody.”
Shumway and Young are not close personal acquaintances. But Shumway said that Young’s character shone through on the occasions when the former ranger and his family would visit the pool where Shumway worked as a lifeguard.
“He stood out in my mind as someone that shines, more than most people,” Shumway said. “When he’d come in, you could just see the commitment to his family.”
Brody shares recollections of shooting
Young’s interest in helping others was hard to miss as he spoke with reporters last week.
When he first approached Arellano’s vehicle, he said his immediate concern was for the person’s safety and well-being. It was a cold night, and Young said he worried that the car at the trailhead might belong to a stranded recreationist.
“My concern was, if there’s a car here, there’s someone up on the trail still,” he said.
Young said he planned to write the car’s plate number down and then come back in half an hour to see if it was still there. However, after he jotted down a partial plate number, he noticed the “lump” of a person in the back seat, so he knocked on the window and woke the man up.
They struck up a seemingly calm and casual conversation, as Young told Arellano that he couldn’t camp at the parking lot, and then suggested other places where the man could spend the night.
The first sign that something was amiss came when Young asked Arellano for his identification, and the man said his name was “Michael Oher” — the real-life football player featured in the Sandra Bullock movie “The Blind Side.”
“Little did I know that I was about to get blindsided,” Young said. “Maybe that was the hint.”
As Young walked back to his truck, Arellano opened fire on him and moved toward him with his gun “blazing,” Young said.
“(He) came up on me very quickly and kept shooting until, I believe, his gun was empty,” he said.
While Young was on the ground, a single thought crossed his mind: He could either stay there and die, or he could get up and defend himself, so he went to the back of his truck and took cover.
At first, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t reach for his gun with his dominant left hand, until he looked down and realized that he’d been shot.
With his life still very much in danger, he took his past training to heart and began to return fire by using his non-dominant right hand. He proceeded to shoot through his truck at Arellano, which led the suspect to back off.
Arellano eventually raised his hands and said, “You got me” — much to Young’s split-second relief.
“All I could say in my mind was, ‘ugh, thank you,’ and I went unconscious,” he said.
That was the last he ever saw of the suspect. While Young was out cold, Arellano jumped back in his car and drove down Potash Road, parking the vehicle off the beaten path.
“I think he thought I died, so he got in his car and left,” Young said.
The suspect then hiked about a mile and ditched his equipment, disappearing beyond that point.
It turned out that Arellano was injured during the exchange of gunfire, but Young had no idea at the time.
He woke up a short time later and realized that no one knew where he was, but his radio was working, so he was able to call in for help. One month later, he woke up at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he learned that he had been in an induced coma for about three-and-a-half weeks.
The doctors there predicted that Young might be confined to the hospital for months, yet just six weeks after the shooting, he came home to Moab – a place he says he’ll never leave.
“I just started healing really well,” he said. “About a year before this, I had this premonition: Get fit and be consistent, and it helped me. It saved my life.”
Young returned to work for about an hour one day in late February 2011, and he eventually moved on to another position with the state parks division. After everything he’s been through, he said he’s grateful that he can continue to do the job he loves as the assistant coordinator of the division’s statewide boating program.
“Most importantly, though, I get to be a father to my kids,” he said.
Although he was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time of the shooting, four bullets and “a lot” of shrapnel remain lodged near his vital organs.
The bullets that entered his body caused internal damage and severed some of his nerves. To this day, he still has a metal rod in his left arm; both of his arms and one leg remain numb.
“Your mind pushes it out and the nerves regrow,” he said.
Because he was ambushed at night, Young also had to overcome the anxiety he felt when it grew dark outside, such as the first time he took the garbage out on his own after sunset.
He returned to the Poison Spider site early that next spring after the shooting, as soon as he was weaned off heavy pain-relieving narcotics and able to drive once again on his own.
“I had to build up or work up to a point where I could come out here alone at night and experience that, and face that fear,” he said. “That’s what got me through a lot of issues.”
Discovery of remains brings closure to searchers
Grand County Sheriff Steve White said that the Shumways’ discovery brings closure not only to Young and his family, but to everyone who was involved in past searches.
“This is huge to them,” he said.
While Shumway and his brother are deservedly in the limelight right now, White said the many other contributions to the search for Arellano should not go unrecognized.
“There were dozens of agencies, especially over the last five years,” White said. “We brought search and rescue teams back in; we bought dog teams back in. There’s been a lot of (private individuals) coming in and taking an interest in it … It never left the forefront of the office. It’s just kind of stayed there.”
For his part, Shumway is quick to credit those agencies and individuals for all of the combined effort that they put into the search for Arellano.
“First off, I built upon what law enforcement did,” he said. “They did an excellent job with their manhunt and their investigation. They were really the building blocks of my search.”
Shumway had never gone out to search for Arellano’s remains until he returned home during a college break late last year, but he believes that several factors were working in his favor.
For one thing, Shumway knew that animals in the wild would be scavenging for food, potentially dispersing skeletal remains. Weather conditions were also similar to patterns during the initial manhunt, which allowed him to imagine what it must have been like at the time.
It ultimately helped to have a second set of eyes during the search, even though – truth be told – his brother got on his nerves during the first day.
“I couldn’t have done it without him,” he said.
Shumway will receive a $30,000 reward for his effort, and while he plans to tuck most of that money aside, he said he’ll give his brother at least $5,000 to help him pay for his religious mission down the road.
Although it’s a nice boost to his own finances, Shumway said he sees the three agencies’ monetary commitment as a sign of the value that they place on Young.
“In my mind, the reward represents peace for Brody’s family,” he said.
Former state park ranger says discovery brings him closure
Everyone deserves to live, no matter what they do, so I’m sad that someone had to die, but I’m also glad that I’m still alive … I did the right thing that night just defending myself.