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The Unsettling Truth About the ?Mostly Harmless? Hiker

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the Collier County Sheriff’s Office
the University of Southwestern Louisiana
the University of Louisiana
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Nicholas ThompsonTo
Natasha Teasley
Ben Bilemy
Daryl McKenzie
Sahar Bigdeli
David Mittelman
Vance John Rodriguez
Randall Godso
Corey Tisdale
Keith Parent
David Blazier
Screeps Slack
Vance Rodriguez
Jesse Cody
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upstate New York
West 23rd Street

the Appalachian Trail
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New York
Baton Rouge
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New Orleans
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Positivity     47.00%   
   Negativity   53.00%
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Someone must miss this guy,” said Natasha Teasley, a woman in North Carolina who organized a Facebook group with several thousand people dedicated to discovering his identity. More than one and a half million people read the story and looked at photos that other hikers had posted. “Hi, this is a crazy note to be sending but I believe I know who the hiker was.” My correspondent had gone to high school with someone who looked like the hiker and whose name was something like Bilemy. The photos in my story didn’t look at all like her friend, who was indeed a hiker but who was alive and well in Los Angeles. I bought Facebook ads on my personal page to promote my story in the region of Louisiana where I thought his relatives likely lived.In the middle of December, photographs of Mostly Harmless found their way to a group of friends in Baton Rouge, one of whom called the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. Someone would have to tell all the people who missed him.I started reaching out, first to Marie, then to other old friends and girlfriends. The puzzle was formally solved today, when Othram confirmed that the DNA of the hiker matched that of Rodriguez’s mother.We'd all been telling ourselves stories about his life. “I could be quiet around him,” she wrote, “and it never felt awkward.”Godso and Rodriguez were both computer nerds, with Rodriguez taking it to the extreme. He’d go for a year without smiling or being nice to people,” Godso recalls. “But I needed a roommate and we got along OK.” Godso adds that he doesn’t remember Rodriguez ever showing any interest in spending time in the wild. The company’s codebase is still filled with notations of “VR,” for code that Rodriguez wrote. “He wore his sadness like an extra layer of skin,” Marie recalls. But, she adds, “I truly dug his imperfectly perfect solitary singular self.”During this time in Baton Rouge Rodriguez started a relationship that would last for five years. Priceless.” After Rodriguez was identified as the hiker, the woman’s mother commented on Facebook, “This man was so abusive to my daughter, he changed her.”His colleagues from that time, learning of his story now, seemed saddened. “None of this is surprising, except for the fact that, in the end, he died.”“I looked for Vance in mid-2017 to hire him to build an app for a client of mine,” says another coworker from Shoppers Choice named David Blazier. “I think it made him even more lonely to be in a place with so many people and no one to connect to,” K recalls.Gradually, the dreary relationship got worse. “I had pretty bad PTSD to which he hated caring for me, even kept a dated log of every time I needed help, to the point where he left me outside in the dark—knowing that at that time I couldn't be outside alone or be in the dark without panicking,” she recalls, before adding, “and this is only the light stuff.”Around this time, according to K, Rodriguez also made a threat that was both terrifying because of his skills and ironic because of the anonymity he was about to seek: He threatened to dox K if she ever left him. In January 2017, Rodriguez wrote, in a Slack channel for Screeps users, “I'm mostly harmless (for now).” In mid-April, he posted his last message in the Screeps Slack and headed into the woods. “I think it just hurts that he was capable of being this person with complete strangers, but when it came to us he couldn't even be a decent human being to treat me or my body with any dignity.”As he traveled down the Appalachian Trail, Vance Rodriguez was unencumbered by obligations and flush with cash from his time in tech. “Everyone assumed he would show back up.”When I wrote about the mysterious hiker in November, I ended the story with two questions: “Why did Mostly Harmless walk into the woods? And why, when things started to go wrong, didn’t he walk out?” Rodriguez’s friends have a theory about the second question. As I tried to make sense of Rodriguez, I thought about a man I know named Jesse Cody who I had raced against in high school cross country. Maybe that’s what he’d been seeking.But then again, maybe these are all just stories I’m telling myself about Vance Rodriguez because I still don’t actually know what happened. "I'll give you a reason not to like me,” Rodriguez had written on Slack, describing a kind of move in Screeps, two months before he went into the woods.After the case was solved, and after some of the dark things about Rodriguez had come to light, I corresponded with Sahar Bigdeli, the woman who’d tried to get his teeth analyzed.

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