Marine spent time on farm during ‘disappearance’
Rocky Mountain News
Vail CO, Colorado
PORT ANGELES, Wash. ” He showed up as the weather was warming in 2007, his hair long and wavy, his demeanor quiet, calling himself “Nine” ” as in the number.
Or maybe it was “Nein” ” as in the German word for “no.”
Ken Nattinger was never really sure which it was, and it didn’t matter to him. The young man he now knows was missing Marine Lance Hering worked hard for a few months on Nattinger’s tree farm, then moved on. That was sometime around the arrival of fall in 2007.
And while many aspects of Hering’s 26 months on the run remain clouded in mystery, the time he spent working on Nattinger’s farm and living in his home seem to indicate that he spent a good part of the past two years in the extreme northwest corner of the United States, on the lush Olympic Peninsula.
Hering, now 23, faces desertion charges after allegedly pulling off an elaborate ruse and disappearing on Aug. 30, 2006, just before he was to return to the U.S. Marine Corps after a leave.
Hering appeared in court Wednesday afternoon, wearing a red Clallam County Jail jumpsuit, his hands cuffed to a chain wrapped around his waist.
During the six-minute hearing, Judge Ken Williams said he expected Hering to be turned over to the Marine Corps if he posts the $5,000 bail that was set after his arrest Sunday afternoon in this logging and shipping town.
Hering had served in Iraq when he traveled to Colorado in 2006 to visit his parents. His scheduled return to California’s Camp Pendleton was looming when a friend went to Boulder County authorities and told them that Hering had been injured in a rock-climbing fall in Eldorado Canyon State Park.
That sparked the largest search-and-rescue operation in Boulder County history. But after no sign of Hering was found, investigators concluded that he staged the accident so he could slip away. A video camera caught an image of a young man believed to be Hering climbing onto a Greyhound bus in Denver.
Since the fall of 2006, Boulder County investigators have worked the case, but it wasn’t until a tipster led them to the airport in Port Angeles on Sunday that Hering was arrested after he’d boarded a small plane piloted by his father. Lloyd Hering, 60, was charged with aiding a fugitive.
Both father and son told investigators the plan was to have him evaluated by a psychiatrist in Virginia, then to take him to a lawyer in Texas who planned to arrange for Hering’s surrender.
Numerous questions surround Hering’s whereabouts between his disappearance and his arrest.
At the beginning of the summer of 2007, Hering showed up at Nattinger’s tree farm on a two-lane road outside Port Angeles.
Nattinger said he and his wife, who are Quakers, have taken in young men and women for years, offering them a place to stay and food in exchange for work on their tree farm.
He described it as a “moral principle” Wednesday as he worked to cut a new ditch on his property, which is surrounded by forested ridges and jagged rock outcroppings.
Hering called himself “Nine” ” or “Nein” ” and Nattinger didn’t ask any questions.
“People like Nine show up all the time,” Nattinger said. “Sometimes they like the lifestyle and they stay. Sometimes they move on.”
Hering stayed three or four months, then he and his girlfriend, identified in court documents as Kimberly Pace, moved on.
“He was a good worker,” Nattinger said. “He wasn’t a freeloader.”
Hering helped build a 6-foot fence around the couple’s vegetable garden to keep out foraging deer and helped trim weeds around the hundreds of Christmas trees growing on part of the farm.
He did not talk about his background, and others living on the farm didn’t ask questions.
When he had free time, he often clambered to the top of one of the Douglas firs that stand more than 120 feet tall on the property.
“I thought he was crazy, personally,” said David Bidne, who has lived with Nattinger for three years. “I tried it once and didn’t get very far.”
Bidne remembered two other things about Hering. He remembered the time he duct-taped his eyes shut for 24 hours “to see if he could use all his other senses.”
And he remembered how Hering could be right there, in the group, and virtually disappear without leaving.
“He was very distant, very quiet,” Bidne said. “You know . . . where there is the main group and the satellite? He was the satellite ” happy but distant.”
Nattinger noticed that, too, but he didn’t really think about it until he saw Hering’s Marine mug shot in the local paper, and someone told him it was the young man he knew as Nine. It came as a shock ” he had not seen Hering since the day he and Pace said “thank you” and “goodbye” a little more than a year ago.
Wednesday morning, as he carefully trimmed Christmas trees with a hint of frost still clinging to the tall grasses, he shook his head as he thought about Hering.
“He really was a good fellow,” Nattinger said. “I wish him the best.”