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Two sisters and a 14-year-old boy were identified as the three campers whose bodies were found badly decomposed at a remote campsite in Gunnison County. 

Christine Vance, 41, Rebecca Vance, 42, and Rebecca’s son were all Colorado Springs residents, Gunnison County Coroner Michael Barnes told The Colorado Sun on Tuesday.

They likely started camping in July 2022, the coroner said, about a year before a hiker found one of the bodies July 9, about 1,000 feet from a site near the Gold Creek Campground, northeast of Gunnison. Gunnison County sheriff’s deputies found the two other bodies the next day. 

Malnutrition and “exposure to the elements” at high altitude and through a harsh winter likely contributed to their deaths, but further analysis is pending to determine the causes of death, Barnes said.

“It was a significantly harsh winter for us this year, and it always is here,” Barnes said, “but we did have more snow than we have had in the past couple of winters.” 

One family member told Barnes she believed the trio planned to “go live off the grid” but didn’t know where they were headed. 

The bodies were discovered in a dark patch of timber and were in an advanced stage of decomposition that made it difficult for the sheriff’s office to identify, Gunnison County Sheriff Adam Murdie previously told The Colorado Sun. Nearby, investigators found a blue tent, empty food cans and a lean-to shelter. 

A hiker discovered one body on the ground in front of the tent, Murdie said. The other two were found after investigators unzipped the tent, according to The Associated Press. 

When Barnes arrived at the campsite, the bodies were partially mummified, he said. The coroner’s office was able to obtain blood specimens to submit for toxicology testing.

The “very remote” campground is not visible from the dirt county Forest Service road that leads to the area, Murdie said. The U.S. Forest Service lists the campground as closed “due to inaccessibility” and as a “haven for hikers, backpackers and equestrians” with alpine lakes nearby. 

The county coroner doesn’t believe the three campers were ever reported missing. The coroner’s office publicly identified the Vance sisters after he located their next of kin, and is withholding the release of the boy’s name as he is a minor.

Olivia Prentzel covers breaking news and a wide range of other important issues impacting Coloradans for The Colorado Sun, where she has been a staff writer since 2021. At The Sun, she has covered wildfires, criminal justice, the environment,...