PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An investigation into the mysterious death of a Portland hiker and his dog left family with few answers in the two months that have followed. Now, after multiple requests from KOIN 6, public officials say the two were shot to death and two people are facing charges in their deaths.
Aron Christensen, 49, was on a camping trip in Central Washington back in August when he died while on a hike with his new puppy, which was also found dead. His family reached out to KOIN 6 this week after waiting months to find out why they were killed and Thursday, a grim update from law enforcement paints a picture of what they say were his final moments.
“He taught me pretty much everything I know. Looking back on it now, I realize that. He was also just a sweet, quiet guy,” said Corey Christensen, Aron’s younger brother. “I’m trying to carry on his legacy through his songs. He wrote a lot of his songs that I’m still discovering.”
A musician and outdoorsman, friends and family say Aron Christensen was a friend to all. In fact, the 49-year-old was on a camping trip with more than a dozen friends in Central Washington near Walupt Lake and decided to go on an overnight hike away from the group with his new 4-month-old puppy, Buzzo.
“Aron was ecstatic to have him and was so excited for all the adventures they could go on together,” said friend Kate Meredith.
Friends say he was planning to hike about 6.5 miles away on Friday, Aug. 19, and camp overnight before hiking the same trail back, arriving back around noon the next day. However, when he didn’t return the next day on the 20th, they grew worried. A few hours later, they saw flashing police lights at the nearby campground.
Meredith was on that trip and went to tell deputies about Christensen not returning in time.
“We had a big, big group and he preferred to have a solo night to himself, so he did that this time, as well,” said Meredith, who says she and Aron were scheduled to cook the group’s Saturday night dinner. “We saw the cop car and my friend and I walked over to the police officer and said, ‘we’re expecting a friend. At what point should we contact you or get worried?’ He said, ‘you have to wait 24 hours,’ and I said, ‘it’s been at least 24 hours.’ He asked if he was hiking alone and I said no, he has his dog. And I could just tell, I could see it in his face that something was not right.”
In the hours after, the group learned that Christensen and his puppy were found dead by other hikers and worried maybe they had fallen, the only explanation they could think of for both to die. However, they say upon seeing him, there was no evidence of a fall and in the days following, family members learned the coroner found a bullet lodged in his body.
Earlier this week, Corey Christensen told KOIN 6 that in the two months since the deaths, they received little information or those responsible, desperate for answers.
“We didn’t get a whole lot of answers right away and I had to call daily to the coroner’s office and to the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office to try to get some answers. This has been extremely devastating to our family. I had nightmares for a month straight and I’m still having nightmares,” said Corey.
This week, KOIN 6 started asking public officials in Lewis County for answers. On Wednesday night, the Lewis County Coroner confirmed pathology tests were complete and ruled Christensen’s death a homicide after he was shot in the chest. On Thursday, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office reported that as a result of the coroner’s determination, 20-year-old Ethan Michael Asbach and a 17-year-old girl , who hasn’t been named, will face charges of 1st-degree manslaughter and animal cruelty.
The sheriff’s office says on Aug. 21st, the day after Christensen and Buzzo were found, a family member of Asbach reached out to authorities saying they had possible information on an incident at Walupt Lake. In an interview, LCSO says Asbach and the 17-year-old girl told investigators they were on a hike around 9 p.m. on Aug. 19 when they heard growling noises and saw the eyes of what they believed to be a wild animal.
According to law enforcement, they opened fire — then a short time later, saw the man and dog dead. The two continued to hike that night but took a wrong path and say they exited the woods the next day on the 20th.
Aron Christensen’s loved ones tell KOIN 6 they won’t stop fighting for justice for both Aron and Buzzo.
“I do hope that the people who are responsible for this are held to the highest extent of the law,” said Meredith.
Christensen’s family tells KOIN 6 they’re also working to find closure and begin to heal with this latest news, adding, they’re thankful for everyone in the community who has come forward to support them during this time.