MISSING PERSONS

Search renewed for US tourist missing along Camino de Santiago

Denise Pikka Thiem disappeared in Astorga on April 5 while walking pilgrimage route

Denise Pikka Thiem in one of the last available photographs of her.
Denise Pikka Thiem in one of the last available photographs of her.

Spanish law enforcement agencies have reactivated the search for an American woman who went missing on April 5 while walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route across northern Spain.

Denise Pikka Thiem, 41, was last seen in the town of Astorga, León province. Her last messages to friends on social media said she was headed for a municipality called El Ganso.

US Republican Senator John McCain sent a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy offering the FBI’s cooperation in helping solve the case

US Republican Senator John McCain sent a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy this summer offering the FBI’s cooperation in helping solve the disappearance, especially if theories pointing to a murder case gained traction.

On Thursday, police deployed aircraft, underground search specialists and members of the Military Emergency Unit to investigate several key locations in the area where Thiem disappeared.

Investigators are working with several theories. The National Police has taken testimony from dozens of witnesses and the Civil Guard has combed the area where Thiem went missing. But so far she has not been found, nor have any arrests been made.

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Thiem, who is from Arizona, set off on her solo journey on March 6, departing from Pamplona. For around a month, she followed the pilgrimage route as confirmed by the photographs that she posted on social networking sites. Her last picture is dated April 3 and taken at an unidentified location, although she published it a day later.

The last time she withdrew money from a cash machine – €50 – was on April 1, and the last day she got in touch with a friend online was April 4. That same afternoon, Thiem produced her pilgrim’s passport – a card that gets stamped along the route to prove travelers have made the journey – at San Javier hostel, near Astorga cathedral.

Next morning, a Sunday, she had breakfast at the local Gaudí cafeteria, according to several reports by other pilgrims. The trail breaks off at Santa Marta church, near the cathedral. Thiem was planning to attend Mass and then start a 14-kilometer trek to El Ganso, where she had been told that there was “a decent hostel,” according to her last known message.

Astorga Mayor Arsenio García Fuertes told EL PAÍS that he had found out about the renewed search for the US tourist through the media. He said the Astorga leg of the Camino is very safe, and described the disappearance as “a strange case.”

He also noted that many local volunteers have helped in the search for Thiem, and that the town was willing to lend further support whenever necessary.

Thiem had quit her job to travel the world and was inspired to follow the Camino after watching Martin Sheen’s movie The Way, ABC News reported her brother Cedric as saying.

English version by Susana Urra.

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