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Great character, difficult duty

A woman, well known in town, disappears. She communicates regularly with members of her family and, suddenly, not a word, not a trace.

A young Pagosan, camping out for the night with friends, disappears.

Two bodies are found in the San Juan River, victims of foul play. No one knows the identities of the victims. An investigation fails to provide their names, fails to reveal their killers.

Not often do big-time crimes or tragedies occur in Pagosa Country. Not often do people disappear into thin air.

But, in these three instances, it happened. And there are those who don’t forget.

The first case is that of Georgia Rohner. She lived in Pagosa. She disappeared in 1986. At the time, there were people who suspected the worst, but it could not be proven.

The second case involves a 19-year-old Pagosan, David Kramer, who, with friends, camped next to a raging Blanco River in 2005. He was there at night; in the morning, he was gone. Searchers worked on the assumption the young man had fallen into the river and been carried away by the waters. A search effort turned up nothing.

The third case involves John and Jane Doe — a young man and woman whose bodies were discovered in 1982 in the San Juan River in the southwest section of Archuleta County. Investigators determined the pair had been murdered, but the investigation stopped there.

Now, the three cases have been reopened — “cold cases” with little to go on, but with investigators determined to bring them to a close.

Detectives George Barter and Rich Valdez of the Archuleta County Sheriff Office are the investigators. The primary reason for their efforts: to provide the families of the victims with closure, with the knowledge their loved ones have been found and, in the case of Jane and John Doe, identified. The other reason: in the one case where wrongdoing was clearly involved, and in the Rohner case, where wrongdoing was likely involved, to identify the perpetrators and, if possible, bring them to justice.

Such determination and diligence is remarkable, and commendable.

Law enforcement agencies are often punching bags for angry members of the public. It is the nature of the work. People love the cops when they help out; people hate the cops when things don’t go their way. Whining about law enforcement is a tradition and, in some quarters, a persistent affliction.

Our sheriff department was in the spotlight recently when a jailbreak occurred at the detention center. The incident gave the naysayers plenty of fodder and, though measures were taken to correct internal problems involved in the escape, the criticism, much of it justified, was abundant.

The reality, however, is that local law enforcement does a good job on a day-to-day basis. The lack of spectacular crimes hides the fact that officers respond to numerous incidents every day, dealing with, among other things, thefts, assaults, petty crimes of all kinds. Sheriff deputies, town police officers, troopers from the Colorado State Patrol— all are busy, every day, out on the streets. And, when the noise clears and the formal complaints are counted, they are doing their jobs well.

And some are going above and beyond, opening old files, digging out cases that remain mysteries, dedicating themselves to solutions that can provide relief to the living and deliver justice, when possible, to offenders.

In the midst of ongoing criticism of law enforcement, it is nice to have an opportunity to thank them for what they do well, with a sense of duty and obligation to the citizens they serve and protect. These recent investigations provide such an opportunity and it is comforting to know people of great character handle difficult duties with our best interests in mind.

Karl Isberg