Three months ago, a crew of search and rescue volunteers found the remains of former Marine Noah Pippin deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The discovery brought to an end two years of uncertainty for the Pippin family. Yet some hope still lingers. Among Noah's possessions was an iPod with recording capability. It's too damaged to play back any material, but the Pippins have sent it into Apple, praying for some final word from their son.
Noah's father Mike shares the news in the lobby of Helena's La Quinta Inn on the Friday before Thanksgiving. He's sipping coffee with his wife, Rosalie, their youngest son, Josiah, and Josiah's wife, Ashley. The family flew in the night before for a ceremony honoring the two search crews who, in 2011 and 2012, braved bad weather to find Noah. And while Rosalie's eyes betray the specter of sorrow, her smile hints at silver linings.
Because of the publicity around her son's disappearance, people have been keeping a vigilant eye in Montana's backcountry, Rosalie explains. Authorities have subsequently received tips that, when investigated, closed the book on other missing persons cases. A scrap of cloth, a few spent shell casings—even as Noah's family prayed for closure, their tireless search was providing it for others.
Then there's Kevin Latshaw. A little over a year ago, a search crew combing the Bob for traces of Noah saved Latshaw's life. The young man's insulin pump had stopped working, and had those volunteers not been so deep in the backcountry—with a helicopter to boot—Latshaw would have perished. Latshaw is a native of Noah's home state, Michigan, and graduated this spring from the last college Noah attended.
Rosalie chokes up when recounting the story. She recently spoke with Latshaw's mother for the first time, and the woman said she felt bad that Noah wasn't similarly saved. As if to answer, Rosalie opens her Bible and quotes from Romans 9:15. "'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion,'" she reads. "I believe God has a purpose, for both our families. Even if I don't know what that purpose is."
Mike, Josiah, Ashley and Rosalie appear to be in good spirits, all things considered. They're bound for the Capital Rotunda, where they'll join friends made during their two-year battle with the unknown. And deep down, somewhere, is a shred of hope. Hope hinging on a broken iPod and the thought of hearing Noah's voice one last time.