The Heroism of James Kim After a week stuck in the Oregon wilderness with his young family, James Kim decided that a father has to do whatever he can to save his family -- or die trying.

The Heroism of James Kim

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Even in a week that's filled with bombings and poisoning investigations, for many people the saddest moment in the news was when Brian Anderson, an Oregon sheriff, had to turn away in tears as he announced that James Kim's body had been found. I'm crushed, he said, he was a real superhero.

Mr. Kim and his wife, Kati, their daughters - four-year-old Penelope and their seven-month-old baby, Sabine - were stranded in their car in a heavy snow after making a wrong turn onto a logging road west of Grant's Pass, Oregon.

The Kims lived in San Francisco, where James Kim worked for a tech news Web site. His family owned two boutiques and a coffee shop where he stopped each day, buying a double latte in the morning and a frappe that he brought home to his wife each night.

They were driving home from Thanksgiving in Seattle, and missed a turn when snow began to fall, and their car got stuck.

The logging road they turned down should be blocked off by a gate in November; it's considered hazardous in winter. But authorities said yesterday that vandals apparently cut the lock, and the gate was open.

For a week, the Kims huddled and ate berries, baby food and crackers. After a few days, they had to burn their tires to keep warm, and to try to attract attention. When they ran out of food, Kati Kim, who is still nursing their baby, breast-fed four-year-old Penelope too.

In these times of mobile phones, instant messages and global positioning satellites, it's hard to imagine that you can be lost and out of reach anywhere in the United States. Many news accounts have tried to imagine the pain, cold, hunger and fright the family must have felt, the excruciating uncertainty, day after day, as they weren't found and couldn't know that hundreds of people were searching for them.

What might have been hardest for James and Kati Kim was to see and hear their children suffer.

So after a week stuck in the wilderness, and no sign of rescue, James Kim decided that a father has to do whatever he can to save his family - or die trying. He struck out to try to find help. Hungry, weak and wearing only street clothes, James Kim, a city boy from San Francisco, walked and crawled for ten miles over sharp ledges, through bristling forests and swam through freezing creek.

Two days after he left, Kati Kim and their daughters were found. Their health is good. But two days after that, James Kim was found dead in a ravine of exposure.

So much of modern popular culture depicts parents who are goofy, foolish, clueless and slightly pathetic. Almost every parent is certain they would risk their life for those they love; James Kim actually made that sacrifice. As Joe Hyatt, a member of the rescue team searching for James Kim, told reporters this week, he must have been an extremely amazing individual. I would only hope I could do the same for my family.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.