The three people whose bodies were found in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains this month were two sisters and a teenage son who had decided to live “off the grid,” survive on canned food and shelter in a tent, the local coroner said on Tuesday.
Michael Barnes, the Gunnison County coroner, identified the victims, who were all from Colorado Springs, as Christine Vance, 41; Rebecca Vance, 42; and Rebecca’s 14-year-old son, whose name was not released.
The sisters had been “discouraged with the state of the world” in recent years, according to family members, and set out last July to permanently live near Gold Creek Campground in western Colorado, Mr. Barnes said.
They tried to stay through the winter, but that persistence appeared to be a fatal mistake, Mr. Barnes said, as heavy snow draped the land around them, forcing the secluded family to burn dry sticks and light a fire inside their tent for warmth.
They likely died during the winter, Mr. Barnes said.
Another sign that they were struggling under frigid conditions was that they would relieve themselves near a tree just a few feet from their tent. They were “cold and not wanting to venture far from the tent,” Mr. Barnes said. “Otherwise you’d probably do that elsewhere.”
It is also possible that the sisters and the teenager had died of malnutrition, Mr. Barnes said. The three had lived on soup and other prepackaged items, and their bodies were emaciated, he said.
Their campsite was roughly an hour’s drive from Gunnison, a small rural community.
A hiker found the body of one of the three family members on July 9 just before 5 p.m., and the authorities arrived the next morning and found the other two bodies. They could not immediately be identified because they were so decomposed, Mr. Barnes said.
The only food found at their shelter was a single package of ramen, Mr. Barnes said.
The Vance family’s relatives had not known where the sisters and teenager had intended to live when they left last summer, he added.
Sheriff Adam Murdie of Gunnison County said earlier this month that it was not unusual for hikers and backpackers to set up camp near where the Vances had.
He said, however, that it was rare for people to die there.
Rebecca Carballo contributed reporting.