LaDonna Greiner spent a terrifying January night lost in the Missouri wildness. She has written a book, I’m Here for a Purpose, about her unplanned adventure and shares the lessons she learned that could help save your life if you ever find yourself lost and alone in the woods.


The Parking Lot

Around 6:00 a.m. January 25, 2021

“Any sign of her?” a leader of the command center asks. “No, not yet.”

Richard spent the night in the parking lot of Taum Sauk Mountain, hoping and praying that his wife would find her way back to the car safely.

“Mr. Greiner, have you called your family,” another command center leader asks, doing his best not to sound alarmed.

“No, they have to work today. I don’t want to bother them.”

In a kind but firm tone, he urges, “I really think you need to call your children and let them know what’s happened.”

“It’s a four-hour drive.”

The command center leader voices his request with more urgency and concern, “Mr. Greiner, this isn’t the time to be alone. Please call them.”

Temperatures had dipped into the low to mid 30’s during the night. A heavy fog blanketed the area shortly after sunset the previous day. Around 10:30 p.m., the rain moved in. At 2:30 a.m., the lightning started making it too dangerous for the search and rescue teams to continue.

He spent the night in the car, hoping and praying that she would return. But she had not.

And now, they are forcing him to face his worst fear, the dreaded thoughts that he managed to suppress over the past 16 hours. He cannot allow his mind to go there. He refuses to acknowledge the possibility.

They don’t think she survived the night.

He looks around at the teams reassembling for the morning search and realizes; these are not search and rescue teams.

They are recovery teams. They are preparing to look for a body. My wife’s body.

Choking back tears, he goes to the car and calls his son and daughters in Springfield.

His son, daughter and son-in-law are on the road within minutes.

He still refuses to believe she did not make it through the night. She is tough. She is smart. She would never give up that easily. She will make it out. She always makes it out. She had to make it out.

It is not her time to go, he tells himself as unstoppable tears flow down his face.


The Story No One Would Tell

He does not know, and, of course, they are not going to tell him what happened eight years ago. It is one of those experiences that stays with a person forever. A story that is remembered and repeated for years throughout the community.

Eight years ago, staff and volunteers searched for a young father and his two sons on a night very much like last night.

In January 2013, the Decareaux family of seven rented a cabin for a long weekend of hiking, campfires and family fun. It is an easy two-hour drive from their Illinois home near St. Louis. The father, two of the boys, Dominic, 10, and Grant, 8, along with their four-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, leave for an 8-mile hike around 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Mr. Decareaux is an avid hiker and an adventurous outdoorsman. He is an Air Force veteran, a Boy Scout leader, a spiritual man and a devoted dad.

January 13, 2013, is an unseasonably warm winter day as the Deccreaux crew set out to hike a familiar section of the popular Ozark Trail, Brushy Creek Lodge to Sutton’s Bluff in Reynolds County. They plan to be back by 4:00 p.m., putting them home before dark. The father wears a light jacket. One of the boys wears a fleece jacket, the other a sweater.

About three hours into the hike, they are near a road hiking in light rain. A driver stops to visit and may or may not have offered them a ride. Some reports say the father declined the ride. However, others report the offer was never made.

Little did Mr. Decareaux know that the weather forecast had changed. Soon temperatures would drop (some reports say the 40s, others note the 20s), and rain would start pouring from the gray clouds overhead.

The boys and their father continue the hike with their young dog. Darkness falls. It continues to rain. The temperature drops (the low would drop significantly before morning with more than 2” of rainfall).

Mrs. Decareaux notifies the authorities at 7:00 p.m. when they don’t return. The sheriff’s department organizes a search party of about 50 people to comb the woods and roads.

In addition to sheriff’s deputies, the search party includes volunteers from the fire protection district, EMTs, Forest Rangers, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and numerous men and women in the community.

At 12:30 p.m., they call off the search due to rising water and flash flooding.

In the dark, Mr. Decareaux and his young sons lose the trail and miss their turn. Although they have a cell phone and flashlight, both lose power at some point. Soaked to the skin, they seek refuge in a barn and huddle together with their young dog for warmth. Sadly, they are unaware of a house only 300 yards away.

At 9:30 a.m. the next day, the search teams find them one mile from the lodge. The father did not survive the night. The boys are suffering from severe hypothermia. Hospital staff work to save their lives, but it is too late. At 2:00 p.m., the boys are pronounced dead on January 14, 2013.

Reynolds County Sheriff Tom Volner said, “They just missed their turn back to the lodge. The cold killed them.”


LaDonna’s book is available here for preorder.