By the time you read this I’ll be gone


The next day, Tuesday, September 21, at 12:42 p.m., Thiele took to Facebook, where her account name was Tiff Ster, and posted a long message. On the local Climb Truckee-Tahoe group’s page, as well as other community pages, she made a shocking accusation that, until this time, she had not been released publicly or shared with police.

In the post, Thiele said she was raped in the summer of 2018 by an Alpine Meadows (now Palisades Tahoe) ski patroller. “He put something in my drink, hid a recording device from me and put a cell phone under a pillow,” she said. “I remember feeling dizzy after 1 drink. My memory is fragmented from that point. I found the cell phone placed face down under a pillow…I was scared and alone. I screamed. He flipped me on my back and pit [sic] the phone in my hand as he climbed on top of me and raped me.

Thiele said she filed a report with the Placer County Sheriff’s Office a month after the alleged incident. Her case was forwarded to the district attorney’s office, she said, but the prosecutor decided not to press charges, citing insufficient evidence.

Although not conveyed in his Facebook post, Thiele’s initial accusation against the patrolman was that he used a recording device while they had sex, without asking her permission. The 2018 sheriff’s report does not mention rape or include an allegation that Thiele was drugged. But something – we don’t know what – happened that forced Thiele to frame the event differently years later.

“I tried so hard to forgive myself. I tried so hard to find meaning,” she wrote on Facebook. “Next week I had planned to climb El Capitan. I thought it would be my big comeback. A way to put the past behind me and show that I’m still strong. I’m strong, but I’m not so strong. We all have our limits. Life has been such a beautiful journey and I’m so sorry for those I left behind.

Thiele said things had not been the same for her since the incident and she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. “I can’t trust a relationship anymore,” she continued. “I see a world full of injustices in which the police blame women. The police have harassed women and they treat them differently so [sic] Men. Men blame women. Women blame women. Women blame themselves. I don’t want to be strong anymore. I’m tired of fighting and being blamed. I just want to go somewhere where I can find peace.

Immediately after the post was posted, concerned friends started reaching out. A climbing buddy named Trevor Vichas, a college student from South Lake Tahoe, was sitting in class when he saw the message, about 20 minutes after it appeared. He immediately texted Thiele: “Hey. Call me. If you need a friend, I’m here. Reach.” She didn’t answer. He called and left a voicemail saying, “Call me back.” No word.

Alexander saw the message at 1:45 a.m. and also texted. “Hehe hehe,” he wrote. “You ARE planning on going to Yosemite in two weeks. We’re both looking forward to it and we’re going to have a great time. I just read your post. I’ll call in a moment. You will good.”

When she didn’t respond, Alexander texted again at 2:08 a.m., saying he was going to ask for help. “Please let me know you are okay,” he wrote. “I will be applying for a welfare check if I don’t hear from you soon,” he wrote.

Thiele replied at 2:20. “Don’t call the police,” she wrote. “I don’t want them [put] a legal hold on me. I took my decision. You don’t understand what I’ve been through. I’m really sorry that I can’t climb with you. I can’t do this anymore. He was never held responsible. I’m so angry that he was never held accountable.

Less than a minute later, she repeated, “I’m so sorry.”

Kimberlie Flowers, a marriage and family therapist from Truckee who first met Thiele in 2014 through a cycling club, was returning from paddleboarding when friends started calling her asking if she had seen the message. The flowers had not. She had never been to Thiele’s apartment before, so she started calling anyone she thought could help her locate her.

Another friend and climbing partner named Haley, who asked that his last name not be used, also called Thiele several times. It was then about 2:30 a.m., almost two hours after the shift. “I had this bad feeling,” recalls Haley, who lives about two hours from Reno but met Thiele to climb regularly. “It wasn’t like Tiff.”

Thiele’s phone was still receiving calls, but she wouldn’t pick up. Then, after one of many unanswered attempts from Haley, Thiele texted her at 2:48 a.m. “I want you to have my [climbing] rack, my bikes, paddle board and any other gear you want. I am so sorry,” Thiele wrote.

Haley received the text, then tried to call again, but Thiele’s phone was turned off and the call went to voicemail.

Hours of agony followed. Someone called the Reno Police Department and asked for a checkup. Thiele’s mother, Nancy, got the keys and walked into her daughter’s apartment in Reno, but she wasn’t there.

Haley and Flowers were in contact with Nancy as well as Thiele’s stepfather, Dave Fish, trying to piece things together. Which places mattered most to Thiele? Where could she go? One place stood out: Donner Summit.

“It was a place where her soul felt inspired and happy and a place where she thought maybe she could find peace,” Haley says.

At 4:12 a.m., a call came in to the 911 dispatcher in Truckee: someone driving near Donner Summit had seen a car parked at a freeway exit. Shortly after, the Truckee Fire Department found a woman hanging 50 feet above the road under the Interstate 80 overpass just north of Donner Lake. Nearby, inside a Subaru with an orange mountain bike on its rack, responders found a camping chair, bicycle helmet, laptop and iPhone turned off. Thiele’s driver’s license was in a purse in the car.

She had climbed onto the steel and concrete bridge, walked towards the center and used carabiners to securely attach one end of her green nylon climbing rope to the structure. Then she said goodbye.


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