David Whitaker

PINAL COUNTY, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- A man accused of sexually abusing a teen hid in the desert and lived off the land for more than three months before Pinal County sheriff's deputies found and arrested him. Investigators say David Whitaker survived on fish he caught in a nearby canal, as well as by hunting javelina and rabbit.

This goes back to Nov. 28, 2020, when Whitaker was reported to the Pinal County Sheriff's Office for the alleged sexual abuse of a 13-year-old. The victim told detectives that the abuse had been ongoing.

According to PCSO, when the deputies were headed to his home, Whitaker left and walked into the desert armed with a handgun.

David Whitaker arrest

The Arizona Department of Public Safety joined PCSO to search for him and were unsuccessful for several weeks. They conducted surveillance operations and went through the desert in areas that they believed he would have been hiding. 

PCSO says Whitaker, 42, is a known survivalist and could live off the grid with nobody knowing. 

In early March, a DPS detective received information about Whitaker's possible location. Deputies say they found Whitaker east of the I-10 near Red Rock. Authorities observed him, established a perimeter around the shack he was living in, and got assistance from Border Patrol. He was located and arrested on March 15, 107 days after he disappeared into the desert. 

"Law enforcement truly is a team effort," said Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb. "We are hopeful his arrest brings the victim and the victim's family some peace of mind."

Roughing it in Arizona's harsh deserts requires skills that cannot be learned overnight, says wilderness survival expert Tom McElroy. He has had multiple excursions in the Sonoran Desert, documenting his techniques for Wild Wilderness Skills.

"There's incredible areas for shelter, there's caves," says McElroy. "There's an abundant amount of wildlife, and mostly there's just a lot of cactuses that provide you with different fruits."

This is probably the best time of year to get lost in the Sonoran. McElroy says, any other time of the year, the desert would not be so forgiving.

"This time of year, you've got plenty of rain, plenty of springs. All the elements you need for survival," says McElroy.


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