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Journalist, outdoorsman found dead in Gila Wilderness after 3-day search

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Silver City resident Richard Mahler, a former Albuquerque Journal columnist, author and outdoors enthusiast, was found dead Sunday night in the Gila Wilderness after a three-day search by about 75 members of search and rescue teams.

Richard Mahler

Richard Mahler

Mahler’s fiancee, Pamela Morgan, herself a search and rescue volunteer, triggered the search late Thursday when Mahler, 66, failed to return that night after hiking to a site along the San Francisco River, where he placed wildlife cameras.

Brian Fuller, the search and rescue incident commander for the Sunday operation, said Mahler’s body was discovered late Sunday near a trail that led back to where he had parked his car.

Mahler’s body was sent to the Office of the Medical Investigator in Albuquerque for a determination of death. “I do know they thought it might be a medical event and not foul play,” Fuller told the Journal on Wednesday.

Assisting in the search and rescue operation were teams from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Socorro, Las Cruces, Silver City, Catron County and the State Police, Fuller said.

“This is nothing I ever imagined could happen,” said Morgan. “It’s extremely ironic and tragic because we were engaged to be married. We didn’t have enough time together.”

She described Mahler as “very kind, very thoughtful and someone who liked to help other people.” He was most recently earning a living by editing and formatting books that others had written, and helping them get their books published, Morgan said. She noted that Mahler himself authored and published 13 books, including fiction, non-fiction and travel guides.

Christine Steele, editor of the Silver City Daily Press and a friend of Mahler’s, said writing the story of his death was personally difficult for her. She first met Mahler in 2009 when she moved to Silver City and they would often get together over coffee to talk about the different creative projects on which they were working. Mahler, she said, was a prolific writer and among his projects was writing a newsletter for an environmental watchdog agency and contributing pieces for a local monthly arts magazine.

After her story of Mahler’s death ran in the Silver City Daily Press, “some ladies posted on Facebook that they remembered him from their Zumba class and he danced barefoot,” Steele said. “But that was Richard. He was very comfortable in his own skin, not judgmental of others, a very thoughtful speaker and writer, and a gentle and calming presence in my life.”

Another friend, Debra Begel, met Mahler in the 1990s in Santa Fe, when he wrote a column, “Un Poco de Todo,” for the Journal North edition.

“We were both print journalists and radio producers, though he had more experience in print and I had more in radio. We’d meet for lunch, and swap stories about projects and offer each other advice. We immediately became friends. Richard had a curious mind and was always investigating, looking things up and delving into life. He was also a spiritual and gentle soul. He meditated daily, cared about people, was into fitness, ate well and in moderation. I think everybody who knew him liked him.”

Mahler was born in San Antonio, Texas, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. After high school, he attended the Hutchens School of Liberal Studies at Sonoma State College, then an experimental program. He later lived in Wisconsin, and earned a master’s degree in journalism and communications.

Jonathan Baylis, a former classmate from Hutchens, recalled that Mahler, whose nickname was “Captain,” was “a real intellectual and a leader among the students.”

Baylis, who now lives in British Columbia, said, “Richard had a grand sense of humor, was very funny, and was one of those 18-year-olds who was mature beyond his years and was already doing a lot of interesting writing.”

In addition to Morgan, Mahler is survived by his father, two brothers, a sister, multiple cousins and other relatives.

A memorial service for him will be held in Silver City at a date to be announced.