Report from Roy and Kathleen Sneddon

Our son David L. Sneddon, a returned missionary from the Korean Seoul Mission and BYU student majoring in Chinese, is missing in China. He last communicated with us August 10, 2004 by e-mail from Lijiang, Yunnan Province in southwest China prior to hiking through Tiger Leaping Gorge. Based upon our family’s subsequent search in China, he was last known to have been in the city of Shangri-La (formerly Zhongdian) in Yunnan. We have reason to believe, based upon our search, he is still alive and was detained unwillingly. We have met with Senator Bob Bennett and staff and he has intervened on David’s behalf with the U.S. Ambassador to The People’s Republic of China, Clark T. Randt Jr, Our embassy in Beijing reports that Ambassador Randt has met with the Vice Minister in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reaffirm the U.S. government’s active interest in finding David. We remain hopeful and ask for your continual prayers in our behalf.

In addition, we have posted a day by day first hand account written by the Sneddons about their quest in China under the “Sneddon Family First-hand Account” section. Everything seems to point more and more to the fact that David is alive. Thank you for your prayers!

Starting up the High Trail

Left to Right: Sean, Charlie, Michael Sneddon, and Roy Sneddon.

On the "High Trail" in Tiger Leaping Gorge

Michael and James Sneddon. Below you can see the "Low Trail" which is now a paved road.

James and Roy Sneddon in Shangri-La

James and Roy Sneddon in Shangri-La, searching for information on David Sneddon.

Muslim Village Near Haba

Left to right: Charlie (Professional Interpreter), Roy Sneddon, James Sneddon, the leader of a Muslim village near Haba, and Sean (Tibetan Guide).

Sneddon Family First-hand Account of Search

September 12, 2004

Michael Sneddon, David’s brother, in a recent telephone call from China, said:

“In their hearts, both Roy and Kathleen Sneddon feel that David is alive and must be found.”

“It wasn’t that unusual for David to be in this remote area of China. Like most of his siblings, David had served a mission for his church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served in Korea, so he had previous experience exploring distant lands. David was learning Chinese in Beijing, and after having studied Chinese at BYU and lived in the Chinese House residence at the university, decided to sightsee in the southern part of China.”

“As an Eagle Scout, David was an excellent outdoorsman with substantial experience on trails. Some ask whether he could have been hurt. This may be a possibility, but locals to the area confirm that the trail is well traveled and that injuries are rare and generally no worse than a sprained ankle, dehydration, or a skinned knee. LiJiang is a major tourist destination for the Chinese people. Many people travel there and hike Tiger Leaping Gorge.”

“As far as the search, so far there is no evidence that David was hurt or even on the trail. His backpack was found by a local innkeeper, and his return plane tickets were in the bag. Several sightings were reported in LiJiang, however there are no definite paths to explain his absence.”

“Local Chinese authorities are making efforts to investigate but have no explanation as to the circumstances for David’s disappearance. This is something that has never happened in this area. Had David been hurt on the trail, most locals think that some hiker or native villager would have seen him. The mountains are inhabited with several minority tribes that live on small farming enterprises. They have not reported any sighting and all the hostels along the trail have no record of David’s arrival.”

For example, on the way to Qiatou a bus nearly hit us head on (it was very, very close). Fortunately the bus pulled back into his lane just before colliding with us. Immediately after, once we had regained our composure, we asked each other to identify the color of the bus. The three of us could not agree on this detail. However, we are all sure that we were nearly killed by a bus approaching us at high speed in our lane. This essential fact remains. When reviewing our field reports, please look for the general, essential facts, particularly those that are corroborated by multiple witnesses.

An E-mail sent from Roy, Michael, and James Sneddon on September 19, 2004

Trekking is a popular activity throughout Europe and Asia but is not widely known or understood in the United States. Consider Trekking as a cross between backpacking and motor touring as it involves elements of both. Like backpackers, Trekkers take all their gear in a backpack. But rather than hiking in the wilderness environment of the mountains or forests and camping out in tents and cooking food, Trekkers move from place to place, sometimes on foot but often on train or bus or hired automobile, all depending on the geography, sights, and distances between points of interest. Unlike backpacking, Trekkers generally stay overnight in specialized youth hostels or guest houses, which serve this group of travelers with inexpensive lodging and food. Trekkers are generally younger and often single as they eschew comfort for adventure, flexibility, and economy of travel.

One advantage of Trekking over other forms of tourism is that a Trekker can easily modify his or her itinerary based on information received from other Trekkers, a trekker hostel, or local people. Often a Trekker will combine efforts with fellow travelers as they meet in hostels and travel together short distances to a common point, sharing costs of transportation, meals, stories, and language skills. Associations come and go, changing frequently according to common goals, such as choice of destination, an interest in a particular culture, sightseeing, and one’s physical capacity. Trekkers help each other and often pool resources and skills to assist each other along the way. Gender differences have little impact in the selection of short term — often only one to two days — travel mates. For example, English speakers that find themselves in a remote part of rural China would likely share their common language skills to help each other in an environment very, very different than life along the Wasatch front. (Unless you have experienced personally these remote areas of the Yunnan Province, you have no idea how different this environment is. It is nothing like a big city environment of Beijing or Seoul.) Many Trekkers travel single. Indeed, this frequent meeting of new people, fellow Trekkers, from different nations and cultures gives Trekking a unique appeal to young travelers who seek to learn more about the world.

For example, before we began our journey from Lijiang to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, a single Japanese man of approximately 21 years of age stayed over night in our same guest house. James Sneddon, with his five years of living in Japan, spent a couple hours talking with him the night before we left Lijiang. James learned much about hiking up Tiger Leaping Gorge, options for travel after leaving the gorge, and the tremendous difficulty of visiting Tibet. This information helped us as we planned our journey.

When we set out on Monday morning, September 13th, we hired a car to take our party of four up to Qiaotou, a distance of approximately 50 miles with a driving time of over 2 1/2 hours. James suggested that we take with us the Japanese man as we had extra room. We did so and our Japanese “friend” started up the trail at nearly the same time that we began, but continued hiking alone to the Tea Horse Guest House, where he arrived about 45 minutes before we did. All of us stayed at the same Guest House, talked, exchanged stories and experiences, showered in the same facility, slept in different rooms, ate breakfast in the same area, and then left the next morning at roughly the same time. After we arrived at Tina’s, we saw our fellow Japanese Trekker get into a car and drive away. We never saw him again.

Trekking is full of such ad hoc encounters and joint experiences with many fun, but transitory friendships. This is one of the great appeals to younger travelers seeking adventure on a limited budget.


Roy V. Sneddon
Michael V. Sneddon
James H. Sneddon

An E-mail sent from Roy, Michael, and James Sneddon on September 15, 2004

To clarify the situation with respect to our quest, we make the following statement for distribution

On Monday, September 13, 2004 we began our hike up Tiger Leaping Gorge, leaving Qiaotou around 1:00 PM. In our party of five were our Tibetan guide with twenty years experience, Sean Xia, our interpreter, Charlie Chen, and family members of David Sneddon, his father Roy Sneddon and two of his brothers Michael and James.

We began our journey at this point knowing that on August 10, 2004 David Sneddon had sent an e-mail to his parents telling them that we was going to Tiger Leaping Gorge. No other details of David’s itinerary were included in his e-mail.

Fortunately, the local police and government authorities for Lijiang and Qiaotou, who have been most gracious, helpful, and dedicated to helping find David, located David’s backpack at a local hostel or guest house. From the inventory of David’s backpack, photos developed from film that he left in the backpack, and information from his room mate who had accompanied David, we were able to determine the clothing that David took with him. David traveled very lightly, taking only a Book of Mormon, a camera, a coat of some kind, a hat, shorts that could be converted to long-pants, a shirt or two, and a toothbrush. These items fit into his small fanny pack, grey and black, which was the top of his internal frame backpack that he left at Jane’s guesthouse in Qiaotou.

The length of the trail from Jane’s guesthouse to Sean’s guesthouse, which is out of the gorge, is 22 kilometers. After we hiked around one hour on the trail, which runs through an inhabited area with villages, farms, and school children walking to and fro, we met another guide leading a mule with supplies and three persons who were returning to Quaiotou. The guide was a friend of a cousin of our guide, Sean. Woolian was a Naxi, who lived with the local people in the gorge. He began talking with Sean in their native tongue. Woolian reported that approximately a month earlier he was leading a group of hikers through the gorge to Tina’s guest house, located 20 kilometers from the start of the trail. This Naxi guide described in detail how a young man, a westerner who was fluent in Mandarin, had caught up with Woolian’s string of pack mules and walked with them for nearly three hours, talking with the couple from Hong Kong. The young man was talking with the couple from Hong Kong; they would alternate speaking in English and in Mandarin to help each other’s language skills. The guide also said the young man had studied Chinese in the USA for a few years and had been a student in Beijing during the summer. He also reported the young man was carrying a very small, dark backpack. Roy Sneddon pulled out four photographs from David’s film the police had found in his large backpack left in Quaiotou. The Naxi guide gave a positive identification and affirmed that this was the young man who had accompanied his pack train for approximately three hours. He added that the young man had gone with him to Tina’s guest house, that they arrived around 10:00 PM, and stayed there. (Tina’s guest house is out of the gorge and is on a paved road traveled by vehicles.)

We continued our hike and spent the night at Tea Horse Guest house.

Tuesday, September 14th

The next day after a wonderful breakfast in the midst of a beautiful part of the world, we left for Tina’s and arrived without incident around 11:00 AM. As is the case with so many guest houses that we have visited (and we have visited scores and scores) the record keeping is not always well organized or up to date. Sometimes records have been delivered to the police and sometimes they are missing. The owner of Tina’s was away and her help showed us the records they had, but there were no records for the 10th or 11th of August for anyone.

Two kilometers down the paved road we arrived at Sean’s guest house (GH) (owned by our guide). We decided to stay for lunch. While eating lunch, Sean had an remembrance of a young man, a westerner, who had stopped by his GH approximately one month earlier around 10:00 AM and had walked up the stairs to the courtyard while Sean was working with guests. Sean reported that the young man said in Mandarin “After twenty years it still is a beautiful place.” (This is a phrase referring to the book “Western China for a Lonely Planet” which describes Sean’s GH as being twenty years old. Sean related to us that he was busy and didn’t pay much attention, but the young man, a westerner fluent in Chinese, continued talking with Sean’s two women employees. We asked the two women if they remembered this (they did) and to describe the young man. They pulled their hair forward, simulating a widows peak, described his clothing, height, and appearance with detail. We asked them what type of pack the young man was carrying. They said it was very small, really a bag, slung over his shoulder (this corresponds with the type of fanny pack that was a part of David’s larger internal frame pack). Roy Sneddon then produced the four photos of David (as we described above). The two women exclaimed in Chinese “That is him!!” We note that David has a receding hairline and has a pronounced widow’s peak. The two women also reported that the young man (David) told them that he had intended to stay at Seans GH but arrived too late in the evening and stayed instead at Tina’s. We note that this time of arrival was reasonable considering that David had spent the night two kilometers up the road.

Note: Sean’s GH is well out of the gorge and this sighting indicates that David did not go down to the rivers edge; rather he was traveling either to Haba (northward) or across the river via ferry to Yoko (southward).

Sean explained to us that the new ferry was not working during the Summer and early Fall and for David to cross to Yoko, David would need to travel another 12 kilometers to the old ferry. If David were to take this path, he would need to take a bus directly to Lijiang, and then retrace his path Qiaotou. Considering that David had tickets to fly from Kunming on August 15th, he had several days in the area and would most likely take a journey that would give him additional cultural experiences, particularly with the Tibetan people who live in Shangri-la. Therefore, having established that David left the gorge, after much prayer and meditation, we decided the most likely course that David followed was to take a loop northward via the villages of Haba, Samba, and Bai Shui Tai Terrace to the Tibetan town of Shangri-La (formerly Zhong Dian).

We discussed this and decided to head north to Shangri-La. We hired a driver and went directly to Haba arriving in the late afternoon of Tuesday, September 14th.

We spent considerable time in Haba talking with people, visiting with the leader of the Muslim community in his house, being helped by many very kind and gracious people who were concerned about our situation. We hired another car to take us northward. As we were loading up our packs and getting in the vehicle, a shopkeeper approached us. We had not talked with him before. He approached us and looked at our placards with David’s student photo ID from Beijing with the words in Chinese “Missing Trekker” The shopkeeper described a westerner, a young man, who had visited his shop over two weeks earlier. The young man spoke fairly well Mandarin and purchased two biscuits. He appeared to be traveling with a young, small Chinese woman. The shopkeeper looked at Michael and said they young man was of similar height and body size (this is accurate; David is just a little taller than Michael is). Roy showed the shopkeeper the four photos of David. The shopkeeper identified the young man who visited his store as being David Sneddon.
We thanked the shopkeeper, and drove on to Bai Shui Tai Terrace where we spent the night at the Naxi Garden Culture Guest House.

Wednesday, September 15th

Arising early, we felt a push to move on to Shangri-La and took the 8:30 AM bus directly from the bus stop at the Naxi Garden Culture Guest House to the city bus terminal at Shangri-La, arriving at 1:00 PM or so.

Immediately we began walking the streets of Shangri-La, visiting places that David might have frequented. Roy felt strongly that we should visit barber shops, so we did. We also visited guest houses and hostels and hotels. Our placards drew lots of attention, with many, many persons offering to help if they could. We worked the streets and shops and barbershops all day long, stopping briefly for lunch and continuing to nearly 9:00 PM. We found nothing and stayed the night at the Milk River Guest House, owned by a Tibetan family (friends of Sean, who seemed to know someone everywhere we went, through distant relations or friends of friends, it was always amazing to us.)

Thursday, September 16th

After our morning prayer, Roy, James, and Michael felt that we should continue our inquiries where we had left off the night before. We ate breakfast and took the number three bus directly to the end of the line, near one of the two or three military installations in Shangri-La. We began walking up the street called Tuan Jie Street, traveling westward, away from the military installation.

After working the street and visiting all the GH’s and barbershops and places that trekkers might frequent, we came to a Korean cafe, which someone earlier had recommended we visit.

Inside the Korean Cafe we met the owner, who speaks Korean, and one of her employees who recalled meeting a young man, a westerner, who spoke Korean and Chinese well. He visited the cafe two or three times over a two day period. She saw the placards we wore on our shirts and said that there was a striking resemblance. The owner explained that she remembered how well the young man spoke Korean. She pointed out the chair in which he sat during every visit and described in detail his mannerisms, how he joked with her and her employees. She remembered that he had a small bag and was with a tall Asian woman. Roy showed her the four pictures, and she was absolutely 100% certain that the man in the photos, David Sneddon, had visited her cafe on multiple occasions about a month ago. She added that there was no way this man could be lost in China; he was too capable, too knowledgeable about the culture and language to be lost. The owner of the Korean cafe also noted that David ate simply and did not spend much.

A young woman from the cafe next door also visited with us, seeing the placards, and thought she had recognized David, but was not sure. After we showed her the four photos, she too was certain that David had visited her as well. Both cafe’s are within 20 meters of each other.

David is clearly no where near the gorge and traveled nearly two days journey from the end of the gorge and was last seen in Shangri-La. We believe that he took one day traveling through the gorge, continued on to Shangri-la via Haba, perhaps spending a night in that area or perhaps not. He probably arrived in Shangri-La on August 12th in the afternoon with the intention of leaving the next day, the afternoon of August 13th (a Friday). Taking the 2 1/2 hour bus ride to Qiaotou to get his pack, and then on the 14th to continue to Kunming in time to catch his flight scheduled for August 15th.

We do not believe David fell victim to bandits as all the government officials and local people report there is absolutely no danger to foreigners from bandits or robbers.

Since his pack was found in Qiaotou, we do not believe that David Sneddon has gone underground (he certainly didn’t have money to do so as he did not draw any funds from his bank account after August 5th) and by so doing David would forfeit his final year of his long sought university education. We do not believe that David is staying with a Chinese woman somewhere in China as his religious training and missionary service for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would preclude this type of behavior. David Sneddon is a chaste, well mannered, disciplined young man who, just a few weeks before his disappearance, told his parents that he was looking forward to returning home, finishing his degree, meeting a nice young woman, and getting married. We believe that David Sneddon is alive and well and hope that the Chinese government authorities on all levels will make every effort to locate him.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Second interview with the Korean Cafe owner, a woman named Zhang Xiao Fen. Name of the cafe is the Yak Bar:

Ms. Fen confirmed again all the details of David Sneddon’s multiple visits to her cafe over a two day period approximately one month ago. She again reviewed again the four color photos and confirmed that this person, David Sneddon, had visited her cafe three (3) times over a two day period. She affirmed that David spoke with her only in Korean, that he ate simple meals (e.g. inexpensive), and sat in the same chair in the same table all three times.

According to Ms. Fen, on the second day, David Sneddon came by the cafe with an Asian woman, taller, attractive. The Asian woman did not speak either Chinese or Korean. Ms. Fen smiled as she explained how David would tease her in Korean, while the Asian woman could only speak English, seemingly unable to understand David’s conversation in Korean with the cafe owner. David paid for his own meal and the Asian woman paid for her meal. Roy Sneddon asked Ms. Fen directly if in her opinion she felt that David had a romantic interest in the Asian woman. Ms. Fen emphatically said no. There was no romantic relationship; in fact, she was not sure if they were even traveling together. It seemed to her that the woman with an Asian appearance needed help from David, as this woman could not order food on her own. David interpreted for the Asian woman.

Upon leaving the cafe for the third and final time, which was around 12:00 noon on the second day, David told Ms. Fen goodbye as in good bye I am leaving for another town. Ms. Fen did not remember if David mentioned where he was going.

We note that the last bus for Qiaotoa leaves Shangri-La around 6:00 PM. Therefore, David had just a few hours left on his second day, probably August 13th, before taking the bus for Qiaotoa. It seems difficult to believe that during these last few hours, perhaps only a couple hours, that David fell victim to bandits or was assaulted.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

As a concluding statement, we wish to document several more sightings of David within a few blocks on the same street (Tuan Jie Jie) as the Korean cafe, the Yak Bar.

For example, we met guide in the Snowland Restaurant and Coffee shop named Dorje. Dorje and Sanji run a charity house and own the Snowland Restaurant. Dorje reviewed the four color photos and confirmed that he had several conversations with David Sneddon over a two day period approximately four weeks ago. We asked specific dates and Dorje estimated around August 14th to 15th. (We believe David arrived in Shangri-La on August 12th and intended to leave on August 13th).

Dorje reported that David inquired about several treks but did not purchase any guided trek, as the cost was prohibitive. He also confirmed that David spoke Chinese well.

Also, another woman Liu Miao, who in August worked for the Diqing Tibetan Area International Guest House located only 70 meters from the Snowland Restaurant, reported that a young man who spoke Chinese had stayed one night sometime during the middle of August. We produced the four color photos and she confirmed that this was the same person. She explained that the police had taken from the Guest house all the records for foreign visitors; this explains why yesterday (Friday) when we visited the GH they had no record of David’s stay. She reported that this westerner, who she believes is David, told her that he was returning to LiJiang.

In conclusion, the evidence is overwhelming that David Sneddon made it to Shangri-La sometime around the 11th or 12th of August and that he intended to return to LiJiang via Qiaotoa around the 13th of August. We have no evidence that he attempted to travel to Tibet or any other destination. To the contrary, all persons who reported meeting him noted that he did not have much money and was concerned about his expenses. Further, in order reach Kunming by the evening or early morning of August 15th to take his departing flight, David would need to leave the Shangri-la by the evening of August 13th – as it is nearly an all day journey by bus from Shangri-la to Qiaotao (to get his large backpack) and then on to Kunming. From Shangri-la is Qiaotoa is 2.5 to 3 hours and from Qiaotao to Kunming is at least another 10 hours.


Roy V. Sneddon
Michael V. Sneddon
James H. Sneddon


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3 Responses to Report from Roy and Kathleen Sneddon

  1. What’s more likely: he fell off a cliff hiking in wilderness China, or he was abducted by North Koreans while hiking, so could teach English to Kim?

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