“The mind withers and the soul may fade,
but the heart will always beat in sync
with the one who carries it.”
– Colin Madsen
February 18, 1991 – April 04, 2016
His Light Carries On:
The Life, the Loss, and the Love of Colin Madsen
When we first met, Colin claimed that he didn’t have a cell phone, so our communication outside of in-person was solely by computer. He said he had no vehicle of his own and the first time we hung out, he had to borrow his mom’s little red car. We met up at Panera Bread along the Missouri Boulevard. We started out eating inside, but later took our conversation to the outside tables so that we could watch the sunset.
It was then that Colin first expressed to me his interest in traveling to Russia and studying their language. I remember explaining my dislike towards the idea, citing it a dangerous place. He countered that the land and culture were beautiful and fascinating.
Back then, Colin and I were both men of a spiritual nature, budding philosophers on the matters of faith, mysticism, history and the greater unknown. It was one of the things that connected us and often became the subjects of discourse.
I can remember that night so very well. The sudden advance of cooler night air, the sounds of traffic along the boulevard, the waning sunlight, the growing illumination of artificial light all around us, the smell of fast food wafting from all the nearby restaurants.
Colin had on jeans and a light colored T-shirt, Hollister brand if memory serves me. I asked if he was cold, but he said he didn’t get cold easily.
I can remember his hair, short and light brown, messy as it often was. His blue eyes, piercing through everything, always searching for truths hidden in subtly. His notable height and the awkwardness that comes with it. His absent mindedness, always getting lost in a thousand thoughts he never got around to bringing up.
I remember the way he would smile when he talked about the things he liked or the things that fascinated him, with the curiosity and eagerness often lost to us after the innocence of childhood. Colin never lost those things.
Later, after we called it a night, I made my way to my car in the parking lot and watched to make sure Colin got to his car and that the engine started. As he drove out of the lot I noticed he never turned on his lights. Moments later and just a few yards down the boulevard, flashing lights illuminated the night and Colin got pulled over.
When I got home I sent him an email telling him that I saw him get pulled over for not turning on his lights. He later replied, laughing it off and claimed without shame that such an incident was him just being his typical forgetful self.
The last time Colin and I communicated was on June 12, 2011. He was concerned about me, as he was always concerned about everyone he cared for. Colin was not the best writer and sometimes his writing didn’t convey his thoughts accurately. I foolishly took offense to the message he sent me and we argued. Time passed and we remained friends through Facebook, we still wished each other happy birthday and clicked like on some of the things each other posted, but as many friendships do, we drifted apart.
There are many great things to say about the Colin I knew, many of these things would be repeated by everyone else who knew him. It seems to me that remarkable human beings are often met with the greatest of tragedies.
Every day, throughout the day, I am reminded in some way of Colin. For some reason, Facebook will no longer allow me to tag him in anything I post. So even though his name isn’t in my news feed in bold letters linked to his profile as it had once been, he does not cease to visit my thoughts.
This year marks the fourteenth year I lost another friend from my childhood, she was only 18 years old, her whole life ahead of her. We never forget the people we lose. For some, these losses are so close to their heart that they lose a part of themselves with the passing of their loved one. The pain of that loss is initially so severe that it feels as though everything meaningful is gone and the value of their own life is lost with the loved one, the vessel of their very soul made empty.
The pain of losing someone that you once let into your heart isn’t about moving on, but about finding ways to hold on. The loss is like a deep cut that feels as if you won’t survive the devastation and even though time and love will make the pain hurt less, the scar left behind from that loved one’s absence will never fade away. You will always miss them, you will always feel their absence and there will be moments when you feel as though you lost them yesterday, no matter how many years have passed.
You’ll find yourself thinking of things you wished you would have told them, worry yourself with the thought that they never knew how much you cared. You’ll wonder if there was something you could have done, some way in which you could have prevented their passing. There will be a thousand why’s and what if’s.
Sometimes we don’t realize in life how much people mean to us until we lose them. Not because we didn’t love them or appreciate them, but because we took them for granted, the rapid passing of time fooled us into believing they would somehow be here with us forever. I am guilty of it, I can only assume we all are and I think that’s just part of being human.
We honor the people we have lost by remembering them and by living our lives the way they would want us to. With someone like Colin, who had a sincere wisdom in his soul, I am constantly reminded of his thoughts on life. Which is why I am constantly reminded of him every day.
Even though I’ve endured this awful experience before and I know he’s gone and I know I have to come to terms with that and carry on with my life, I really don’t want to. I don’t want to accept that he’s gone, I think I convince myself at certain moments that he’s just off on some adventure somewhere out in the world, simply because it’s less painful than the truth.
Even now, after the amount of time that has passed I still feel shock, disbelief, that it isn’t real. I certainly wish it wasn’t. The world needs people like Colin, we all need someone like Colin. Just because you know that you can’t undo what has happened, it doesn’t make it easy to accept.
Imagine life without your son. Imagine life without your brother. Can you Imagine such a thing? Now, imagine that at the age of 25, not only did he vanish, but that he was murdered in a land far from home. How would that make you feel? More than a year later, Missouri native and resident, Dana Madsen-Calcutt and her family have still not received justice for her 25 year old son and my friend, Colin Madsen.
Colin was a timid soul, not the scared kind, but the calm and gentle kind. He could be described with the usual adjectives such as intelligent, compassionate, creative, loyal, but he was so much more. He had a way of seeing through the proverbial walls that people hide behind, and could somehow know people on deeper levels than most others are ever willing to attempt.
He was highly contemplative, lost in thought often, but if you sat down with him you would find yourself in the midst of a deep conversation about a myriad of things ranging from the importance of protecting the environment to the interconnected nature of the universe and the meaning of life.
His power of empathy surpassed that of many people I’ve met during my lifetime. His unapologetic need to know how you’re feeling and his noble desire to make sure your spirits were up, highlighted the type of caring individual he was. He was never remiss in his concern for all the living things he encountered, whether they be human, animal, or even plant.
Colin was an adventurer, a free spirit if ever I met one and traveled extensively throughout his life, visiting such continents as South America and Asia. He spoke Russian and Spanish fluently and was learning Japanese.
He spent a lot of time exploring various wilderness areas, not just in his free time, but also worked to build hiking trails in Russia and as a guide for inexperienced hikers. He was an activist for environmental protection for which he received a warning from Russian police officials to stop participating in environmental protests.
I first met Colin when he was living with his mom in Jefferson City, Missouri. He spent some time as a student at both Helias High School and Jefferson City High School, as well as Terre Haute South Vigo High School in the state of Indiana.
Colin was enrolled at Columbia College before becoming a Russian language student at Irkutsk State Linguistic University in Irkutsk, Russia, where he had hoped to work as a translator at the U.S. Embassy. Irkutsk is located northwest of Lake Baikal in the Province of Siberia. Lake Baikal is the largest and deepest freshwater lake on Earth, and one of Colin’s favorite places to explore.
Siberia is an extensive province, stretching from the Ural Mountains east to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, covering an area more than 5 million square miles. Colin was enthralled by Russia, with its vast wilderness in Siberia and the mix of cultures converging from various parts of the Asian continent, he fell in love with the land and the people.
How tragic it is then, that in a place and among the people that he loved, would arise the tragic ending of his life.
On the morning of March 27, 2016, in the resort village of Arshan, located in the Republic of Buryatia, Russia, Colin vanished before dawn. He had been staying in a cabin there while on a hiking trip. Arshan is a popular little town on the edge of Tunka National Park, located just three hours drive west of Irkutsk.
In the days that followed people began searching for him, including a professional search and rescue team, but no one could find any sign of him. On the eighth day of Colin missing and after his mother had arrived to join in the search, Colin’s body was found not quite a mile away from his cabin, under a tree outside the village.
Aside from being accosted by the local police when she first arrived, Colin’s mom became quite aware that investigators neither cared about her son nor were concerned with finding the truth of what had actually happened to him.
When the Russian coroner released their findings, Colin’s death was ruled the result of hypothermia and an accident. Though the medical examiners found no drugs in his system, the investigators continued claiming he was under the influence of drugs at the time of his death. The investigators also continued to slander Colin, trying to portray him as a worthless drug using delinquent and immoral degenerate.
In the months that followed, American medical examiner’s had reviewed Colin’s remains and crime scene photos and found evidence of foul play. His body was still in rigor mortis when first discovered beneath the tree, a phase that takes place within two to six hours following death and typically lasts up to eighteen hours but not more than thirty-six, which means Colin was alive for most of the days he was missing.
His eyes and mouth were open and his fists were clenched, he had wounds on his hands and markings on his wrist consistent with being bound or tied up, he had bruises all over his body and a wound on his head suggesting he had been both beaten and hit in the head with an object.
They also found a mark around his neck, consistent with strangulation with an object similar to the necklace he often wore, which oddly was in the possession of one of the officers who strangely pulled it out of his own pocket and handed it to Dana after Colin’s body was discovered. They also noted petechial hemorrhaging, a symptom of strangulation.
They performed a toxicity report and found no evidence that Colin had used any hard drugs, and only found what could have been trace amounts of marijuana, which was so faint that it would have been ingested or smoked days before he even went missing. On his body and under his torn clothes they also found plant debris suggesting his clothes had been removed and his body exposed to the ground after death. His clothes, however, appeared to have been washed before they were put back on his body.
You can learn more about Colin’s murder investigation in this Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty article.
Due to the American medical examiner’s findings, Colin’s family and friends wish to have his case in Russia reopened and have already appealed the initial ruling. The family has hired a lawyer, but even with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Russia they have not been able to reopen the case and their requests have gone unanswered.
Who would do this to such a caring young man? If you know anything about Russia then you know how immensely corrupt both government officials and department officials are, this includes police and investigative agencies and even state run media. You would also know that many criminal groups claiming to be representing state interests go unchecked and have been committing unforgivable human rights violations.
For years, people have been disappearing off the streets of Russia, right from their homes or jobs, hauled off based on accusations that have no evidence and are sometimes even based on allegations made by one individual. The victim of these false allegations is violently interrogated until they are forced to confess to all unfounded charges just to make the suffering end. Sometimes people die during or shortly after these interrogations.
It’s not just Russian police who do this, vigilante groups have also been doing this illegally in Russia without reproach from the government, especially in rural areas, claiming they are defending Russian state interests. I believe this is the fate that befell Colin. He and his family continue to go without justice for this atrocious act, and his assailants remain free.
Without serious political and public pressure, pleas for justice fall upon deaf ears. Colin did not deserve what happened to him and while we cannot undo it or bring him back, we can take those responsible off the streets and bring them to court to pay for their crimes and keep them from doing this to someone else’s son, someone else’s brother, someone else’s friend.
I want to close this article by sharing a letter I wrote to Colin’s family and other friends after I attended his funeral on April 16, 2016, as well as a letter I wrote to Colin posthumously. Up first is the letter to his family…
To all of those I met today and those who were there in spirit,
We celebrated Colin’s life and not the tragic ending. From the service in town to his resting place at the family farm, it was a memorable, honorable and touching experience.
I want to take a moment and say thank you to the members of Colin’s family and other friends, whom none of which I knew until Colin went missing in March. Through Facebook I’ve interacted with several of you over the passed few weeks and today I met some of you in person.
First, I would like to say I am sorry that many of you I didn’t recognize, I am terrible at putting names to faces. Though the circumstances of our first meeting was not the occasion any of us would have chosen, I am grateful for that introduction all the same.
I want to say thank you to all of you for the warm, loving and gracious welcome. Never in my life have I ever been so comforted, accepted and embraced by a group of people. Nor have I received so many hugs.
What an incredible family Colin has, I really could not find words at numerous occasions, at the outpouring and shared love today. I truly believe that today Colin’s memory and life were celebrated in a way mirroring his own remarkable character.
During my short speech today, I tried to reflect on the nature of our friendship, but as Colin once said to me, “Words are imperfect,” and I feel as though mine were. There were so many things I wanted to say that I couldn’t think of and other things that I simply could not say.
I hope this piece of writing better illuminates on what I couldn’t find the words to say and highlights the extraordinary family and friends Colin has accumulated over the years.
Such wonderful words were spoken, such heartfelt songs were sang, I was deeply touched by all of it and I know Colin would have said the same. His spirit was honored by all of it and all of you.
– Kephen Merancis
And now the letter to Colin…
In times now passed, you once said to me that words are not perfect, but I’m going to try anyway. We shared such deep and lengthy conversations about many topics, spending hours writing and speaking on subjects such as our beliefs and our thoughts, about our strengths and our weaknesses, about the things and the people we cared for.
We spoke of the things we wanted to see happen in the world, about how to become better men ourselves, about how life began, about humanity, about how all things are connected, about love and companionship, about what happens when we pass away, about nature, about beautiful countries we’d like to visit, about the stars and the very Universe itself.
So many things and I wish so desperately that I had saved all those conversations, even with your spelling errors and grammar mistakes. For time is a thief and has taken from me too many memories. Now that we can no longer engage in such conversations I am especially regretful that I did not cherish them and you more.
It’s so easy to see how many opportunities I had to reach out to you and reconnect over the years, and I now beat myself up over failing to do so. I am immensely sorry for not rebuilding our close friendship, this is something that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
You saw something in me, things that reminded you of yourself as you once said. It is true, we both spent a lot of time deep in thought, revered nature, were curious about other cultures and new ideas, we both were interested in meditation, Buddhism, and in understanding ourselves and our journeys through life.
You also saw in me what you referred to as potential for growth, and while I didn’t understand you back then or why you were so concerned about me and my life, I now understand your perspective and your compassion. Your lessons are now my reminders and I will not forget them. I will carry them and you with me always.
You were far greater a human being than I will ever be. It takes someone special to do what you did and be who you were, to leave behind such treasured memories and love in the hearts of those you knew.
I am so grateful for that time in our lives where our journey through this crazy world collided and intertwined. Though brief in a larger scope, it has left an impression on me. One that has not and will not fade away.
I know that you wanted to talk more, to spend more time together, to get to know one another more, and I know this because you told me so. And now we can’t and I think that’s one of the things that makes this hurt the most.
Although you never got the chance for us to reconnect the way you wanted, I have been astounded by all the incredible things I have learned about you and your life over the years that we have been apart. Through your family and other friends I have been given a window into parts of your life I had previously not seen or been a part of. What an amazing story they all have collectively told.
You were called many things: grandson, son, brother, nephew, friend, student, teacher… and you lived up to each of them.
Thank you for being brave enough to be yourself in a world that constantly tells us we are not good enough as we are. Thank you for always seeking wisdom and sharing it with others all along the way. Thank you for the open heart you never closed to anyone, no matter how much you knew it might hurt.
I wish we had more time. One more sunset, one more long drawn-out conversation about anything and everything, one more late night chat, one more laugh, one more smile, one more lesson, one more heart-to-heart, one more proper farewell.
Your light carries on,