APACHE JUNCTION, AZ - Before he went missing, Johnathan Croom had developed an obsession with the movie "Into the Wild," in which a young man leaves society to go live off the land.
Unfortunately, both stories had tragic endings. The body of 18-year-old Croom turned up in rural Oregon on Monday, authorities say.
It was 1,000 feet from his abandoned car, which officers found last week.
They suspect no foul play and are investigating the death as a suicide, said Dwes Hutson, public information officer for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.
"John made us feel like he was OK, but he was really hurting inside," his father, David Croom, said Tuesday. "It's really important that we pay real close attention to what our kids are saying and that we remind them that we love them, because there are influences in the world that tell them otherwise.
"John is loved by many. I appreciate all the help and what everyone has done. My instincts told me this could happen. I'm trying to be strong for my community."
In the movie based on Jon Krakauer's 1996 nonfiction book, a young man by the name of Chris McCandless disappears from society.
Over the past six months, David Croom said, his son had shown a growing interest in the movie and possibly wanted to emulate McCandless' actions.
"He's been watching the movie a lot," Croom said before his son's body was found. "Maybe he said, 'I want to do it.' That's our theory, because he kept talking about the movie."
Johnathan's green Honda CRV was found on a lonely road in the quiet country town of Riddle, Oregon, on Wednesday, two days after he was supposed to start college at Mesa Community College.
"We still don't know what happened," Croom said, "but he was lost in the wild. He got in over his head, and things didn't go well."
He was last seen at a friend's home in Seattle, where he'd been visiting. His father assumed he was driving back to Arizona through Washington and Oregon before he went missing.
The teen has been a main topic of conversation in Riddle, a logging and ranching community of about 1,300 with no traditional grocery store and no movie theater.
People had been searching their property for him, said one resident, a longtime rancher who asked that he not be identified.
"There's nothing that makes sense," he said. What happened to him does not seem to square with what happened in the movie.
Riddle is dozens of miles from the nearest wilderness area, residents say.
"It's 2½ miles from the major interstate; it's right in town in Riddle," Huston said of where Croom's car was found. "There are houses and people, and it's well-populated, so if he wanted to do an 'Into the Wild,' it wasn't the appropriate place."
Krakauer's account of McCandless' life has taken on an almost cult status among countless free spirits who dream of shedding the trappings of modern life and living off the land.
"There were similarities," Croom said of his son's disappearance.
In the book, McCandless cut off communication with his parents and traveled to Alaska, where he lived in a school bus before dying of starvation.
Like McCandless, Johnathan Croom apparently traveled with very few belongings: perhaps a small backpack and his phone, his father said. Left behind in the Honda was the teen's ID card, plus a sweatshirt, blanket and jug of water, things someone might need to survive in the wilderness.
Johnathan Croom's camping experience was limited at best, his father said, not much more than camping once or twice.
Several reports describing travelers with an apparent interest in McCandless and the abandoned "Magic Bus" parked near Healy, Alaska, outside Denali National Park, have surfaced recently.
In May, a police helicopter reportedly rescued three German men who had hiked into the wilderness looking for the bus. An Oklahoma teen inspired by the movie reportedly went missing in Oregon in March after telling his parents he wanted to "live in the wild."
In 2010, a Swiss woman reportedly drowned in an Alaska river during her trek to visit the famous bus.