Police forces in Spain have renewed their search for an American woman, Denise Pikka Thiem, who went missing while walking the “Camino de Santiago” pilgrimage route in northern Spain.
Thiem, 41, quit her job in Phoenix, Arizona earlier in the year, planning on traveling the world, but went missing soon afterwards on April 5 while walking the famous pilgrimage route.
She was reportedly last seen in the town of Astorga in León province, and according to friends on the social media, she had said she was heading for El Ganso on the next leg of her Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, as she had been recommended a reasonably priced hostel in the town.
— Asm Smart (@asmsmart) September 10, 2015
Police initially searched for the missing woman with no success and back in August, Thiem’s parents called on the help of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. As reported in The Local, Dalia and Seng Thiem wrote a personal letter to Rajoy, pleading with him to help in the search.
“We are writing to implore you to tell us what Spanish police think happened to our daughter when she disappeared on April 5, 2015 while walking the Camino de Santiago near Astorga. Is there any reason to hope she is alive?”
More recently there have been theories raised that Thiem may have been murdered, and U.S. Republican Senator John McCain sent a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to offer the cooperation of the FBI in solving the case.
Police on Thursday deployed aircraft and underground search specialists, along with the help of the Military Emergency Group to investigate key locations in the area where Thiem went missing.
According to El Pais, Thiem began her journey on the “Camino de Santiago” alone on March 6 in the city of Pamplona and for a month followed the iconic pilgrimage route, posting images on the social networking sites as she went. However, the last photo posted was dated April 3 and was taken in an unidentified location.
— El País in English (@elpaisinenglish) September 10, 2015
Investigations show that the last time she withdrew money was when she took 50 euros from an ATM on April 1, and her last message on the social media was sent on April 4.
That same afternoon, Thiem produced her pilgrim’s passport – a card which records the journey of pilgrims along the “Camino de Santiago” trail – at the San Javier hostel, close to Astorga cathedral.
Reportedly, the next morning she had breakfast with other pilgrims at the local Gaudí cafeteria, and as it was a Sunday, Thiem was planning on taking mass at the Santa Marta Church close by before heading off to El Ganso. She was never heard from again.
According to the major of Astorga, Arsenio García Fuertes, he heard of the renewed search for the woman via the media. Fuertes described the disappearance as a “strange case” as the Astorga leg of the “Camino de Santiago” is considered to be very safe.
Fuertes added that many local residents have volunteered to help in the search for Thiem and that the town was prepared to lend any further support that may be required.
The Local quotes a police spokesman Thursday as saying that 300 officers with dogs had been deployed and they will concentrate on wells in the area where she was last seen.
“Following investigations that we opened at the time of the disappearance, a search is now being carried out in an area near Astorga.”
“Investigators now think that there is a possibility that carrying out a search on the ground will lead to new developments in this investigation.”
According to her brother Cedric, Thiem was inspired by the Martin Sheen 2010 movie, The Way, to make the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage journey across Spain, but regrettably went missing soon after starting the walk.
The Camino de Santiago is also known in English as the “Way of St James” and is a pilgrimage route starting in France and covering various areas of northern Spain, leading to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. The route has become a tradition for those wishing to follow a spiritual path or simply as a retreat for spiritual growth.
[Image: Screengrab from YouTube video]