Australians express grief, thanks over McKay search

SARANAC LAKE – In emails, phone calls and Facebook posts, Australians have been thanking the village police officers and state forest rangers who led an exhaustive, nearly two-week search for Paul McKay.

They’ve also been sharing their sorrow at the loss of one of their countrymen.

The body of McKay, 31, was found on a shoulder of Scarface Mountain near Ray Brook on Wednesday morning, 15 days after the Australian Army captain was last seen walking on the railroad tracks near the federal prison. Authorities say McKay, an Afghanistan war veteran who had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, committed suicide by hypothermia.

Not long after the news broke that his body had been found, Saranac Lake Police Sgt. Casey Reardon said the department received two phone calls from people in Australia.

“One described himself as an ex-Army bloke,” Reardon said Friday. “He just wanted to thank us for putting so much effort into the search for one of his countrymen and a fellow Army solider. He said he had read about the volunteers searching and the extensive man hours that went into this search. He was just totally impressed that we would go to those lengths for somebody coming here from Australia we didn’t know or we had never met.”

The Enterprise received several emails from people in Australia, expressing their appreciation for those involved in the search and their grief over McKay’s death.

“I read about the search and watched the news on Australian TV,” wrote Bruce Willey, who lives in Sydney. “Very sad outcome, but one thing that came out of this was the help (village) police Chief Bruce Nason and his team was so heart warming.”

“All Australians are grateful for the effort of your people in assisting with this tragedy,” wrote Alex Hack off Epping, a suburb of Melbourne, who said he was an Australian Army veteran.

The community of former Australian Defence members is anguished over McKay’s death, according to Peter Gunn of Ballarat, in the Australian state of Victoria. Gunn is a former Defence member who called the Enterprise unsolicited Friday to thank the local community and emergency services for their attention to McKay.

“We’re shocked. We’re upset,” Gunn said.

The big “question mark” for them, he said, is post-traumatic stress disorder and how it is affecting other Australian soldiers.

“It’s too hard to handle because it’s massive,” Gunn said. “How do we help those guys?”

“I am grieving today,” village Mayor Clyde Rabideau posted on his Facebook page on Thursday above a picture of McKay in his dress uniform. “I am sorry for his loss and offer our community condolences to his Australian family.”

Rabideau said he’d invite McKay’s family to Saranac Lake “so that we can show respect for this young man, his military service and offer whatever solace we can to a mother, father and family that must be so hurt, searching for answers and looking for whatever divine rationale there could ever be in this experience.”

Rabideau’s post, as of this morning, had more than 4,600 likes, had been shared online by 1,335 other people and had 639 comments below it, many from people in Australia.

“Thank you for your very kind words for one of our Aussie soldiers,” posted Mark McKelvie.

“Many thanks to our American cousins who searched and have done so much to help,” posted Lynda Medcalf. “RIP Paul McKay.”

For Reardon, who led the investigation for village police, the search for McKay was very personal. Like McKay, Reardon is also a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. The sergeant served with the New York Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry. He was in Afghanistan from late 2007 through 2008 and into early 2009.

One of the first things he did when he heard McKay was missing, Reardon said, was contact now-retired Col. Eric Olsen, a former Army chaplain who lives in Saranac Lake, to see if McKay had come here to seek help through Homeward Bound Adirondacks, a veteran healing and reintegration program that Olsen has been involved with.

“He said he hadn’t,” Reardon said. “But one of the things I said to him was, ‘It sort of stings a little bit. I hope we find this guy.’ He said, ‘Yeah, he’s one of our brothers.’ It’s disturbing that he had to come here and die alone on a mountaintop, for everything he’s done. I wish we could have found him alive.”

Enterprise managing editor

Peter Crowley interviewed Peter Gunn for this report.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.