Hiker from River Forest vanishes in Montana's Great Bear Wilderness

Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Hiker from River Forest vanishes in Montana's Great Bear Wilderness
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Five days after a hiker, originally from River Forest, went missing in Montana, parishioners gathered Tuesday at her family's church to pray for her safe return.

FLATHEAD COUNTY, Mont. (WLS) -- It's been five days since a hiker, originally from west suburban River Forest, went missing in Montana. Parishioners gathered Tuesday at her family's church to pray for her safe return.

Madeline Connelly, 23, was living in Arizona. Last week, she visited her uncle in Montana on her way to a new job in Alaska, managing a bakery. On May 4, she decided to go on a hike at Great Bear Wilderness near Glacier National Park with her dog, Mogie. They never came back.

On May 6, police launched a full-scale search by air and land. The search intensified after grizzly bear tracks were found in the area, but the Flathead County sheriff said there is zero evidence showing any sign of an attack. Rescue workers are using horses to navigate the difficult and isolated terrain, as well as search dogs and infrared cameras. Her family is confident she is alive and well.

"They're treating this as a rescue, not as a recovery. There have been no signs of any torn clothing or blood or anything like that. They're treating it as if she's out there," said Michael Connelly, the missing woman's uncle.

Family members found her Subaru Outback near a trailhead, but no sign of Connelly.

"I've hiked it, just a few miles of it, and it's pretty rough terrain. You can get lost pretty quick, so that's what we're assuming happened," Michael said.

"It's stressful, but know that she has her dog. They're like best friends," said Lillie Connelly, sister.

Her parents traveled to Montana to help in the search. Relatives and friends described her as a free spirit and avid hiker.

"She is an outdoors girl. She is outdoors as often as possible. She loves it. It's where she's most comfortable," said Laura Maychruk, who lives near the Connelly family in River Forest.

Her sisters said they're familiar with the trails she was on and are confident if anyone can survive them, it's her.

"We're comforted knowing that she's been out there before and she knows what to do. And she knows what to stay away from and what danger to expect," said Maeve Connelly, sister.

Connelly graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. Vigils were held at St. Luke Roman Catholic Church in River Forest, as her friends and family kept a positive outlook.

"We're hopeful that Madeline's going to come back, really healthy, and they're going to find her. That's what's so great about River Forest and this community. We're all really just praying and rooting for her," said Ximena Leonardi, who knows the Connelly family.

"Anybody in our parish community you feel a bond with, so of course we're praying for this family and their daughter," said Clare Faherty, a parishioner.

"They have a wide support network, which is actually very helpful in times like these," said Father Steven Bauer, associate pastor.

Connelly has brown hair, is about 5 ft. 5 in. tall and weighs around 120 lbs. Mogie is a medium-size dog with white and tan fur.

Anyone who may have seen her or has information about where she could be should call the Flathead County Sheriff's Office at 406-758-5610.