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Parents' grief leads to comfort

DUNCANNON, PA. — DUNCANNON, Pa. - James and Connie LaRue and Glenda Hood climbed to the summit of Cove Mountain on the Appalachian Trail yesterday to dedicate a new shelter where their children were killed a decade ago.

Hood, of Signal Mountain, Tenn., and the LaRues, of Cleveland. walked more than two hours over rocky terrain to reach the shelter dedicated to the memory of Geoffrey Hood and Molly LaRue.

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The parents were walking the same path that their children hiked in 1990. Geoffrey Hood and Molly LaRue were the eighth and ninth hikers slain on the Appalachian Trail since 1968, when Congress established it as a national trail. The idea of the trail was first conceived in an article in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects in 1921.

The 2,160-mile trail winds from Georgia to Maine, offering a grueling six-month challenge to those who follow its entire course.

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"It is just a way of identifying with what they were doing and what they enjoyed. It gives us one more chance to be close to what was important to them," James LaRue said, explaining why the parents chose to retrace their children's last steps. "It is therapeutic."

"It is kind of like you feel their spirit here," said Glenda Hood.

At the top of Cove Mountain, elevation 2,500 feet, the parents joined 40 other hikers and unveiled Cove Mountain Shelter, a partially enclosed, timber-frame structure that will serve as a refuge from bad weather and a campsite for hikers. It replaces the Thelma Marks Shelter, in which the killings occurred, about 18 miles from Harrisburg, Pa.

Built by trail club

The new shelter was built by the Mountain Club of Maryland, which maintains 30 miles of the trail in Pennsylvania and 8 miles in Maryland.

The club is responsible for four of the more than 200 shelters that are located about every 10 miles along the Appalachian Trail.

Forty-six volunteers spent 4,000 hours building the shelter, which is made out of recycled timber from a nearby barn.

The ceremony was attended by representatives of the National Park Service, which oversees the trail, and several longtime Appalachian hikers, including 82-year-old Earl Shaffer of Gettysburg, Pa.

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In 1948, Shaffer became the first person to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. He did it again when he was 79.

About 50 years ago, he built the Thelma Marks Shelter, which was burned down to make way for the new one. The ashes were spread over the grounds of the new structure.

Though the new shelter was built as a memorial to the slain hikers, their parents asked that it not be named for them.

'Memorial to life'

"This is a memorial to life, not death," James LaRue said. "We don't want people remembering the death. This is about affirming life."

For the participants, yesterday's ceremony was meant to bring closure to the brutal killings that stunned Appalachian Trail hikers and supporters 10 years ago.

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After six months of planning, Geoffrey Hood, 26, and Molly LaRue, 25, had set out on their Maine-to-Georgia hike in the spring of 1990.

Both were teachers at a Kansas program that brought troubled youths on wilderness trips. About Sept. 13 they arrived at Duncannon - about the halfway mark - where they apparently met David Crews, a drifter on the run from Florida police

A short time later, Crews shot Geoffrey Hood several times. He then raped Hood and fatally stabbed her in the throat and back with a knife. The motive for the killings remains unclear.

Massive manhunt

Their bodies were found about 12 hours later on Cove Mountain and a massive manhunt began for the killer.

The Appalachian Trail Conference, a nonprofit organization that maintains the trail, ordered hikers in Southern Pennsylvania and Maryland to avoid the trail until Crews was caught.

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A few days later, police apprehended Crews on the trail near Harpers Ferry, W.Va. He was wearing Hood's hiking boots and carrying his backpack.

In May 1991, a Pennsylvania jury convicted Crews of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. He remains on death row in a prison near Pittsburgh.

Safety concerns

The killings - which came two years after two other women were shot, one fatally, on the Appalachian Trail in Michaux State Forest in south-central Pennsylvania - raised concern about security on the trail.

Between 2 million and 4 million people hike on the trail each year, said Pam Underhill, National Park Service manager for the Appalachian Trail. About 3,000 people attempt to hike the entire trail each year; one in 15 completes the journey.

"This is something people dream about, even if they never do it," Underhill said.

For the record

The name of a crime victim was incorrectly reported in an article in Monday's editions of The Sun. Molly LaRue, 25, was raped and fatally stabbed on Sept. 13, 1999, on the Appalachian Trial near Duncannon, Pa.The Sun regrets the error.


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