Aron Christensen’s name first appeared in The Chronicle as part of a 30-word death notice on Aug. 31, 2022. It noted the Portland man had died Aug. 20 on a Walupt Lake hiking trail in East Lewis County.
It took more than three weeks for the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office to announce the death was under investigation. After a month without answers, a front-page headline asked the question: “What Happened to Aron Christensen?”
The next week, on Oct. 27, the Lewis County Coroner’s Office announced Christensen’s cause of death as a gunshot wound to the chest. The sheriff’s office then referred manslaughter charges against a pair of suspects, but the Lewis County Prosecutor's Office sent the case back for additional investigation.
Seven months after the bodies of Christensen and his dog were found, no charges have been filed.
The investigation into the deaths of Christensen, 49, of Portland, and his dog, an Australian cattle dog puppy named Buzzo, has been mired in stops and starts.
The seven months since law enforcement opened an investigation into Christensen’s death have been filled with significantly more questions than answers about the case, with Christensen’s family and friends expressing frustration over the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office’s lack of communication and conflicting messages during the investigation.
The investigative material itself was not open to the public while the case was actively under investigation.
Since the case was referred to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office in late February, however, much of that material, including incident reports, call logs, forensic test results, necropsy reports and other relevant documents, has become public record.
The Chronicle obtained that public material, which shows possible errors in the Lewis County Sheriff Office’s investigation that potentially continue to impact the case as prosecutors mull charges.
‘Not a Gunshot Wound’
An SOS device from Walupt Lake Campground sent out a distress signal to Lewis County 911 Dispatch at 4:02 p.m. on Aug. 20, advising of an unconscious hiker who was later identified as Christensen.
A dispatcher was assigned to the case at 4:04 p.m.
The first investigator to arrive at Walupt Lake Campground was Lewis County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew G. Scrivner, who reported getting to the campground at approximately 6:10 p.m.
When Scrivner made contact with a hiker who found Christensen, the hiker said he and his wife were on the 101 trail, at least 1 mile away from the campground, when they noticed a body lying about 50 yards away from the trail.
The distance between the bodies and the trail is inconsistent throughout the reports submitted by law enforcement, with some stating the bodies were no more than 10 to 20 feet away from the main trail. The distance between the scene and Walupt Lake Campground is also listed inconsistently, ranging from 1.5 to 4 miles.
Upon getting closer to the bodies, the hiker noticed “it was a large male and a dog,” later identified as Christensen and Buzzo, both dead. The hikers then reported seeing “what appeared to be some sort of wound similar to a gunshot wound” on the left side of Christensen’s body.
Unbeknownst to law enforcement at the time, those two hikers were the first of two couples to report finding the bodies on the 101 trail that day.
A couple on horseback reportedly found the bodies while riding back to the campground from Walupt Lake that afternoon, but initially believed them to be sleeping, according to a Nov. 9 interview with law enforcement. Concerned the dog would spook the horses, the couple reportedly tried to contact the man, “but neither moved or acknowledged them.” The couple then approached the bodies and found both were dead.
The couple reported they had started down the trail at about 9 a.m. on Aug. 20, but didn’t see the bodies until their return trip that afternoon. They stated they did not hear any gunshots while they were on the trail.
Seeing blood on Christensen’s shirt when they approached the body, one of the two reportedly “grabbed a stick and lifted Christensen’s shirt without touching his body” and saw “a hole in Christensen’s side, which seemed suspicious.”
The two decided to ride back to camp and report the body to the camp host, which they did, and were told the bodies had already been reported.
The two hikers who spoke with Deputy Andrew G. Scrivner at the campground on Aug. 20 also said they did not see the bodies while hiking from the campground earlier that day, but did see them on the return trip.
After making contact with several campers — including several of Christensen’s friends, who reported him missing — as well as the camp hosts, a U.S. Forest Service officer and a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officer, Scrivner reportedly “started down the trailhead” ahead of the two officers.
The two officers were waiting for volunteers to help pack the bodies out, per reports.
At 6:41 p.m., dispatch relayed a message to Forest Service and sheriff’s office personnel reading, “ANYTHING SUSP. DON’T MOVE HIM,” according to the call detail report from Lewis County 911 Communications.
Scrivner arrived on the scene first, alone, at approximately 7:31 p.m., according to his report.
The scene itself, which law enforcement repeatedly refer to as a “primitive campsite,” was reportedly on a “small flat area” away from the main trail. Scrivner noted, “there were several large logs” that someone had likely “taken an ax or a chainsaw to cut portions out of the log,” which led to the campsite.
Later describing the Aug. 20 scene, Scrivner wrote “the male was near a dried out creek bed laying under heavy forest timber and on the ground … laying on his back and using his large hiking backpack as a pillow. His right arm was extended upwards as if he was sleeping on his side with his arm resting above his head.”
There was some vomit on Christensen’s beard and “a small amount of blood” on his shirt and the blanket he was laying on, per Scrivner’s report.
The dog, Scrivner noted, was “laying a couple feet away from the male’s body” and had “a leash and harness still attached to him.”
Upon examining Christensen’s body, Scrivner said he “was able to locate what appeared to be some sort of puncture wound on the left side of the body near his rib cage and stomach.”
Scrivner said “the wound appeared to be similar to like a rip or tear/puncture, it is difficult to tell if it was from a bullet or from a tree limb or stick that may have protruded into his body.”
Scrivner then observed the dog, “looking for any other entry wounds that would be consistent with a bullet wound. However, I was unable to find one.”
At 7:45 p.m. on Aug. 20, dispatch relayed the message, “NOT GUNSHOT.”
When asked a minute later if detective units were still needed, the deputy replied “NEGATIVE ON ‘D’ UNITS.” That message was relayed on dispatch.
About three minutes later, at approximately 7:48 p.m., the Forest Service and Wildlife officers arrived with several campers who “gathered together” to help pack out Christensen’s body.
Meanwhile, another officer from the sheriff’s office, Detective Sergeant J.S. Humphrey, was en-route to the scene. He arrived at the campground at 7:58 p.m, at which point he said, “Deputy Scrivner advised me over the radio that he did not need detectives and he had eight volunteers to help him extricate the body.”
Scrivner reportedly confirmed the subject was deceased and told Humphrey “the subject had a puncture wound on his left side,” per Humphrey’s report.
Another detective who was en-route at the time reported he “received information through dispatch that the death did not appear to be suspicious and they did not need a detective to respond.”
Scrivner reportedly took photos of the two bodies and searched a 25- to 30-foot radius around the site for shell casings, but didn’t locate any.
Personnel who searched the site on Aug. 31 also did not locate any freshly-spent shell casings. A search with a metal detector revealed a multitude of bullet casings and other metal items that appeared to have been buried for a long time, according to detectives’ reports.
Scrivner’s report describes how he, the officers and the campers spent several hours packing Christensen and Buzzo’s bodies on Aug. 20.
Before leaving the scene, the Wildlife and Forest Service officers took an inventory of the items in Christensen’s backpack. The Wildlife officer confirmed “No items in the backpack were unusual to what many hikers use on an overnight camping trip,” per their report.
Personnel re-packed Christensen’s backpack and carried it, along with Christensen and Buzzo’s bodies back to the campground, where they arrived at approximately 11:48 p.m. on Aug. 20.
Christensen’s body was then turned over to the Lewis County Coroner’s Office.
Supplemental reports from the Forest Service and Wildlife officers corroborate Scrivner’s report.
Just before 2:45 p.m. the next day, Aug. 21, a man called Lewis County 911 Dispatch asking to talk to a deputy “regarding the Walupt Lake incident.” The man, identified as the father of Ethan Asbach, 20, of Tenino, said he talked to his son earlier in the day and explained while his son was hiking to Sheep Lake, “his son encountered a dog and a male, he fired off a shot and possibly struck the male with the firearm.”
Detectives were then assigned to the case.
Supplemental reports from the detectives who interviewed Asbach corroborate the narrative released by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office in late October, when the sheriff’s office initially referred charges against Asbach to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.
According to Asbach and an unnamed 17-year-old female from Rochester who was traveling with Asbach, the two left the Walupt Lake Trailhead at approximately 9 p.m. on Aug. 19, hiking to Sheep Lake Campground to meet with Asbach’s father, who was camping there on a bear hunting trip.
Asbach reportedly had his father’s 9mm handgun inside his backpack, according to the detective's reports.
Asbach later said his father told him to bring the firearm “for protection against wild animals in the area” since he knew he’d be hiking after dark.
Between 45 minutes and an hour after the two started hiking, the 17-year-old reported hearing “a possible growling noise.”
The 17-year-old told detectives “she believed this was a mountain lion, which she also told Ethan,” per the report.
The growling soon got louder and closer to Asbach, prompting Asbach to reportedly “start shouting in an attempt to try and scare off whatever animal was growling at him.”
As he was yelling, Asbach allegedly reached into his backpack, pulled out the firearm, inserted a magazine and chambered a round.
Asbach reportedly shined his headlamp toward the growling as it “became more aggressive and closer” and saw “a reflection of two eyes from an animal.”
Asbach allegedly reported “he got scared and the animal was not retreating from his commands,” so “he fired one shot at the animal.” Asbach then reported hearing “a yipping and howling noise” as “the animal ran away from his direction.”
The 17-year-old reportedly noted that when the animal fled, “Ethan believed it may have been a wolf.”
The two reportedly “stood still for several minutes to see if anything else was a threat towards them” before Asbach walked in the direction the animal ran.
Asbach said he quickly found Christensen and Buzzo’s bodies, and Asbach “immediately noticed there was a bullet wound to the left side of the male’s body,” per the report.
Asbach later stated he assumed the dog “was the animal he had shot.”
The 17-year-old said Asbach “quickly came back to her and said there was a body there.” She then walked over and confirmed there was a body, noting “the male appeared to have already been dead.”
Asbach told law enforcement “he got scared and was in shock and did not know what to do,” so in an effort to reach his father, he and the 17-year-old continued hiking toward Sheep Lake Campground. They quickly became lost, however, and set up camp around 3 or 4 a.m. on Aug. 20. At dawn, they returned to Asbach’s vehicle at the Walupt Lake Trailhead, drove to Asbach’s residence and waited for his father to return.
Cellphone mapping completed in January 2023 supports Asbach’s narrative.
Asbach reportedly “stated he did not contact 911 because he wanted to talk to his father about what occurred,” according to a subsequent report from a detective.
Asbach’s father confirmed Asbach had not made it to Sheep Lake Campground the night of Aug. 19 and said he spoke to Asbach about the incident on Sunday, Aug. 21.
Asbach’s father reportedly turned over the 9mm firearm to detectives on Aug. 21.
Asbach confirmed his initial narrative in followup interviews with detectives, a Facebook conversation with one of Christensen’s friends, and a voluntary polygraph test on Dec. 17.
During that polygraph, Asbach was asked two questions: “Did you see a human in the area where you fired the gun in August 2022?” and “was there a human present in the area where you fired the gun in August 2022?” He answered “no” to both questions.
The test examiner found Asbach “did not exhibit a significant, consistent physiological reaction to any of the questions” during the polygraph test and concluded Asbach “was not attempting deception” during the test, according to the examiner’s report.
Autopsy and First Necropsy
Christensen’s autopsy was conducted at the Lewis County Coroner’s Office, with Detective Tyson Brown of the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office present, on Aug. 26.
The forensic pathologist conducting the autopsy, Dr. Megan Quinn, noted “fluid buildup in (Christensen’s) eyes” that “may be indicative of the decedent being face-down,” according to Brown.
Brown noted there were no signs of blood or trauma to the head and that Christensen was found face-up, with “no dirt or debris on the decedent’s face consistent with being face down.”
Quinn ultimately located a 9mm caliber bullet lodged in Christensen’s ribcage, according to Brown’s report. The bullet apparently entered the lower part of Christensen’s torso and moved into the upper part of the torso.
The bullet itself was “minimally deformed” when it was recovered, showing “visible rifling marks.” There was “no soot, stippling or muzzle imprint found on the entry area of the wound,” according to a report written by another detective in November, after Quinn’s autopsy report was complete.
Testing done on the bullet recovered from Christensen’s body later confirmed the bullet matched Asbach’s gun and that dog DNA was present on the bullet.
In the detective’s report submitted Aug. 29, Brown said Quinn “indicated to me that the wound tract was not a fatal wound.”
According to Brown, Quinn said Christensen “had noticeable heart disease, which she said was fatal.” Brown then asked Quinn “if the penetrating bullet would have caused any sort of heart attack, which would have led to (Christensen’s) death, and she told me no.”
A toxicology report completed Oct. 4 determined Christensen had a non-dangerous amount of THC, the principal psychoactive constituent of marijuana, in his system at the time of his death.
Quinn ultimately found Christensen’s cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest and the manner of death was homicide.
She submitted a written report of her findings on Oct. 26, according to the sheriff’s office.
Quinn completed an external exam on Buzzo the same day she completed Christensen’s autopsy Aug. 26.
During that exam, she reportedly found “two round marks” under the dog’s front leg which “looked like something could have grazed the animal and gone just under the skin with an entrance and an exit,” according to detective reports.
When X-ray results showed “there was no bullet seen inside Buzzo,” Quinn reportedly said “she felt it was best for a necropsy to be performed.”
A detective requested a necropsy for Buzzo, which Dr. Brandy Fay of Newaukum Valley Veterinary Services completed in September.
The sheriff’s office received Fay’s report on Sept. 27, according to detective reports.
In her report, Fay noted one of the two wounds was “superficial,” while the other penetrated into the chest cavity, through the left lung and into the heart.
“The wound had no exit and showed no evidence of remaining foreign material or bullet,” which indicated “the entry wound is also the exit wound of the object used,” according to a detective’s report summarizing Fay’s findings.
Buzzo’s death was “likely instantaneous,” according to Fay’s report.
The wound itself was about 1 cm in diameter, according to the report.
A detective noted, “At this point it does not appear that Buzzo was shot, but rather struck with a penetrating object that was also removed and left no remnants,” which contradicts the accounts from Asbach and the 17-year-old.
Referral to and From the Prosecutor’s Office
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office referred first-degree manslaughter and first-degree animal cruelty charges against Asbach to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office on Oct. 27 — the day after forensic pathologist Dr. Megan Quinn turned in her written report on the autopsy — but the prosecutor’s office referred the case back to the sheriff’s office on Oct. 31 for further investigation.
Issues with the initial referral included missing documents about the cause and manner of death, an explanation on why Quinn — a pathologist with no veterinary certification — examined Buzzo, “starkly divergent conclusions” reached by Quinn and Fay on Buzzo’s cause of death, a missing report from Washington State Patrol on whether the bullet found in Christensen matches Asbach’s firearm, and a missing report on testing done to the bullet.
The sheriff’s office had at least several of those documents at the time, as they were referenced in detectives’ reports, but the documents themselves weren’t sent to the prosecutor’s office.
“As you know, if a charging decision were to be made at this stage, before an investigation is complete, any filed case would be ripe for challenge and would not be prepared for trial in a timely manner,” Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer said in a written letter to the sheriff’s office explaining the need for further investigation. “I understand there has been much attention on this matter, but, as of right now, there are simply too many matters unresolved for this office to provide a proper review and a charging decision,” Meyer continued.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Megan Quinn reportedly clarified her autopsy findings in a followup interview with a different detective on Nov. 3, where she reportedly said “she thinks Detective Brown,” the detective who wrote the initial report on Christensen’s autopsy in August, “may have misunderstood what she told him at the time.” She clarified that the bullet “did not strike ‘vital structures’” but “left alone, this type of injury would eventually cause death.”
Quinn reportedly added “Christensen was ‘absolutely having a heart attack at the time’” of his death, but explained that evidence indicated Christensen “was suffering from a heart attack for ‘several hours’” before his death.
On Nov. 30, veterinarian specialist Dr. Kris Otteman, who was brought in to review the necropsy report from Dr. Brandy Fay and determine if any further necropsy work needs to be done on Buzzo, asked to “further examine Buzzo as it did not appear the abdomen area was thoroughly examined the first time,” according to a detective’s report.
Otteman, who works in the Portland area, was recommended for forensic necropsy by the Washington state Attorney General’s Office, according to the sheriff’s office.
Otteman conducted that followup necropsy at the Lewis County Coroner’s Office on Dec. 6.
Before starting that necropsy, Otteman reportedly “noted that Buzzo was not shaved and suggested doing so in order to conduct a thorough external examination.”
Once Buzzo was shaved, Otteman found “a visible hole and bruising on the flesh” on Buzzo’s back near the right hip that aligned with the penetrating wound Fay previously found.
Otteman concluded a single gunshot caused both of those wounds on Buzzo, stating she believes Buzzo was standing at the time he was shot.
In her report, she said her professional opinion is “he died of a pass-through bullet that entered his body, passed through his chest and abdomen and then exited his body.”
The detective who attended the December necropsy noted the angle and exit wound on Buzzo matches the trajectory on Christensen’s wounds, stating “With Christensen laying down at the time, it is possible for Asbach to have shot Buzzo with the bullet exiting Buzzo and entering into Christensen. This could also explain the dog DNA found on the bullet removed from Christensen’s body.”
However, it’s unclear whether the dog DNA got on the bullet during the incident itself or during Christensen’s autopsy in August.
When asked by a detective via email on Nov. 28 about the possibility of cross-contamination during her autopsy of Christensen and physical examination of Buzzo, Quinn said, “I would not say to any degree of certainty there could not have been DNA transfer between items of evidence.”
Quinn said she did switch her gloves between examinations, but “was sure the same instruments were used on the animal and Aron.” The techs and assistants there that day likely did not change their gloves and PPE between handling “any/all pieces of evidence,” including the two bodies, Quinn told a detective.
Referred Back to the Prosecutor
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office referred the case back to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday, Feb. 23, again recommending first-degree manslaughter and first-degree animal cruelty charges against Asbach.
The case file itself included over 450 pages of documents, as well as video and audio files submitted by law enforcement.
When asked by a Chronicle reporter at the time how long he expected his office would need to make a charging decision, Meyer said, “Not sure, there is a lot of new information to review.”
In a March 13 response to a text from a Chronicle reporter asking if there have been any updates on Christensen’s case, Meyer said, “Not yet. I would anticipate next week.”
When asked again on March 23, Meyer said, “I anticipate a charging decision next week.”
Charges related to the case had not been filed in Lewis County Superior Court as of Friday morning.
Family Advocates for Gun Legislation in Oregon
Aron Christensen’s brother, Corey Christensen, who lives in Oregon, testified in the Oregon state Legislature last week to advocate for three gun control measures, including one that generally prohibits anyone under 21 years old from possessing a firearm.
“My brother was an avid camper and experienced hiker. So why were he and his puppy dead? We are still waiting to find out as the case may not even go to trial, but what we do know is that a 19-year-old male suspect confessed to shooting the puppy and a bullet was found in my brother,” Corey Christensen said in his testimony, referencing Asbach, who was 19 at the time of the incident. “Why is it always a 19-year-old male with a gun? I’m a gun owner, and they hardly ever see the light of day. I keep them locked up, away from my children. I keep the ammunition stored separately. My children are far too young to learn about guns and gun violence, in my opinion. Yet, the death of my brother has them asking questions daily,” Corey Christensen said.
Information on the three Oregon gun control measures can be found online at https://bit.ly/3ZmNg8w.
Aron Christensen’s friends and family have repeatedly expressed frustration over how the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office handled their investigation, specifically citing conflicting information as well as long spans of time with no communication.
A GoFundMe set up in November to help Christensen’s family “cover the costly legal fees and subsequent investigations associated with this complicated case” had raised $31,022 as of Friday morning. The GoFundMe can be accessed online at https://www.gofundme.com/f/justice-for-aron-christensen.
Statement From Christensen’s Family
Christensen’s family submitted the following statement to The Chronicle on Friday, March 24.
“Last Sunday marked seven months since Aron and Buzz were killed, and with each passing day that our questions remain unanswered, our patience continues to wear thin, and our hearts grow heavier. We haven't received many new updates regarding the status of the case since it was referred to the prosecutor's office for a second time. As far as we know, charges have yet to be filed; arrests have yet to be made.
“We are grateful and appreciative of the overwhelming support and kindness our family has received from people across the country. The GoFundMe funds have been essential in retaining legal guidance to assist our family in navigating such devastating circumstances.
“We know that an entire community hopes to help us press for the truth, gain closure, foster healing and find justice for Aron and Buzz. We hope that can happen sooner, rather than later.”