Ronnie and Beverly Barker’s family spent more than a week anxiously awaiting news after the Indiana couple went missing in Nevada during a cross-country road trip.
On Tuesday night, about a dozen family members got a firsthand account of the harrowing experience from Beverly, 69, who had been rescued and airlifted to a Reno hospital hours earlier. Ronnie, her 70-year-old husband, had not survived.
He died in his wife’s arms on Monday, eight or nine days after their vehicle got stuck in a ditch on a mountain in central Nevada, leaving them stranded.
Beverly Barker broke the news in a video call to family members. Their nephew Travis Peters told The Washington Post everyone broke into tears when his aunt appeared on the screen.
“My cousin turned the phone,” Peters, 49, recounted. “Then, to everyone’s amazement, my Aunt Beverly was sitting in the car’s passenger seat right next to her.”
Beverly had survived a nightmare on Red Mountain, where she and her husband were trapped without blankets, food or water. The couple and their RV were directed off the main road by their GPS in late March, sending them up the mountain. When the RV fell into a ditch, they unhitched the SUV they had been towing. Then, that vehicle got stuck in the mud. Without provisions, Ronnie Barker died several days later as a helpless Beverly watched him take his last breath.
The retired couple regularly traveled the country in their 2015 RV. They were headed to Tucson on their way back to the Midwest after visiting their grandchildren in Oregon, but on March 29, the couple’s friends called the family to report that the Barkers had not shown up and could not be reached. That prompted one of the couple’s daughters to reach out to authorities to report them as missing.
Family members tried to get Nevada authorities to issue a Silver Alert, which would have notified people in the area that the seniors were missing. That alert did not go out for nearly a week, Peters said, despite multiple requests.
“It hurts,” Peters told The Post. “My uncle should have been [rescued] with her had the steps been taken in a timely manner.”
The Esmeralda County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to questions from The Post about why an alert was not immediately issued. Peters said the family was told it was because the Barkers were from out of state.
Beverly, during the call with her family, chronicled how they ended up stranded on top of Red Mountain.
The pair was in their RV when the GPS told them to get off the main road and had them driving in circles for about an hour. By then, without knowing, the couple had made it to the top of Red Mountain. About an hour later, the RV got stuck in a ditch, and the couple decided to camp there for the night. The following day, they unhooked their SUV and tried to follow the RV’s tracks to go back the way they had come.
But the tracks became tough to follow, again leaving them driving around in circles. Then the SUV got stuck in the mud. The couple had no supplies.
“They didn’t think about what might happen,” Peters told The Post. “ … They didn’t realize how remote they had gone up in that mountain.”
For the next two days, Beverly recounted in the video call, they tried to text and email their family, but the messages were not going through. So Ronnie and Beverly decided to sit in the car to wait. Ronnie started honking the horn multiple times a day hoping someone would hear their SOS message. Someone would soon come to their rescue, the couple thought.
Ronnie’s condition began quickly deteriorating. The Air Force veteran had overcome multiple cancers after being exposed to Agent Orange, a herbicide that can lead to serious health problems, during the Vietnam War. He had part of a lung removed and had trouble breathing, Peters said.
The high altitude was proving difficult, and Ronnie became weaker and weaker.
Beverly, known as Bev, is diabetic and uses a walker and a cane most of the time because of joint issues. She kept exiting the car to fill the plastic wrappers of their N95 masks with snow so they would have water when it melted.
“When Bev would journey to the hill to get to the snow, she would just start praying because she was so afraid [thinking]‘If I fall, there’s not going to be anyone able to pick me up,’ ” Peters told The Post.
Ronnie, a devoted Christian, asked Beverly to read scriptures from her phone’s Bible as they rested and huddled together in the car’s back seat to stay warm. As the days went by and the couple still saw no signs of rescuers in the area, Ronnie’s health worsened.
He passed the time watching jets flying through the crisp blue sky, and at night, he looked at the stars with his wife. In a way, as he came to terms with dying, he was accompanied by his three loves: astronomy, aircraft and Beverly, Peters said.
At one point, Beverly told Ronnie that it was okay to die. He deserved to rest, Peters recounted. “Both were at peace with that,” he added.
Ronnie took his last breath in her arms at 3:12 p.m. local time on Monday, Beverly recalled during the family call.
“She didn’t go into details about the sorrow and sadness,” Peters said. “I don’t think she had tears to cry just from dehydration.”
Beverly continued to honk the car as an SOS signal. Rescuers heard her honks after finding the RV on Tuesday around 4 p.m., according to Peters and the sheriff’s office. The couple was then found in their SUV about two miles away. It had been eight or nine days — Beverly was not sure of the exact chronology when she finally spoke to family following her rescue, Peters said.
No one expected Bev to be on Tuesday’s video call, he said.
“Everybody started shouting that we love her,” Peters added. “It was a reunion over the phone.”
By the end of the call, Beverly and her daughter had already arrived at a hotel where she would spend the next couple of days recovering and slowly going back to eating solids.
“It was overwhelming for her,” Peters told The Post. “She showed incredible strength.”