LEAVENWORTH, Ind. (AP) — An Iraq war veteran and caving enthusiast took his own life about half a mile from where he left his car on a rural road but more than four months passed before four young spelunkers exploring where they weren't allowed found him deep inside a treacherous cave, Indiana conservation officers said Tuesday.
Kevin Eve, 25, of Georgetown, Ind., died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Crawford County Coroner Chris Brown said.
Eve was last seen Oct. 1, and his car was found two days later in Harrison-Crawford State Forest about 30 miles west of Louisville, Ky. His body was found Sunday by other cavers inside Breathing Hole Cave in the state forest along the Ohio River.
"Evidence suggests that Kevin Eve's trip to that cave was a planned effort to end his own life," Indiana Conservation Officer Cpl. Terry Allen said in a news release. "There were no signs of a struggle or entrapment at the scene."
Recovering Eve's body required negotiating 154 feet of staggered climbs near the cave's exit. Groups of six to eight people at a time moved the body up and over wet and muddy obstacles before handing it off to another group of people, a relay that ended Monday night nearly 24 hours after the Indiana Department of Natural resources' Cave Rescue Team arrived on the scene, Lt. Phil Schuetter said.
"We had some officers underground for 18 of those hours," Schuetter said.
Four college-age cavers from Terre Haute had discovered Eve's body Sunday morning about one-third of a mile into Breathing Hole Cave but did not notify authorities until that afternoon when they returned to Terre Haute, Schuetter said. Breathing Hole and all other caves on state property have been closed to the public since 2009 to inhibit the spread of white-nose syndrome among bat populations.
Conservation officers have not decided whether to pursue misdemeanor charges against the Terre Haute cavers for violating the cave closure.
"We want to protect our bats," Schluetter said. "Our caves are closed."
After Eve's disappearance, , conservation officers organized a search effort that canvassed about 25 square miles of some of the most rugged hills in Indiana and examined 85 caves. The search involved more than 200 people including foresters, police and cavers from as far away as Iowa, said Conservation Officer Jim Hash. leader of the Cave Rescue Team.
Breathing Hole Cave is one of about 350 caves in Harrison-Crawford State Forest. It had been searched twice before, but Eve's body was found in a relatively unknown passage unlisted on some cave maps, officers said.
Indiana is home to around 3,100 caves.