SARANAC LAKE - Local residents stood outside in the bitter cold this morning to pay their respects to an Australian Army veteran who, authorites say, intentionally froze to death on an Adirondack mountain.
A hearse carrying the body of Paul McKay, bound for his native Australia, moved slowly through downtown just before 8 a.m., led by a village police car, a state Department of Environmental Conservation forest ranger truck and a state police cruiser.
About two dozen local residents, some standing alone, others in small groups, stood on the sidewalk in the minus-12-degree temperatures as the somber procession passed by. Some, including several veterans, saluted. Others held their hands over their hearts or made the sign of the cross. One held up an Australian flag.
Local veterans, police officers and forest rangers carry Paul McKay’s coffin into a hearse at the Fortune-Keough Funeral Home in Saranac Lake this morning.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Two local residents salute while another holds her hand over her heart as a hearse containing the body of Paul McKay, of Canberra, Australia, passes in front of the Harrietstown Town Hall in Saranac Lake this morning.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Earlier, the coffin carrying McKay's body was carried from the Fortune-Keough Funeral Home on Church Street to the hearse by a group of local veterans, village and state police officers and a forest ranger. The pallbearers saluted as the door of the hearse was closed.
The motorcade traveled down Church Street, onto Main Street and then to the Harrietstown Town Hall at the corner of River and Main streets. From there, the procession turned onto River Street and Lake Flower Avenue and continued along state Route 86. In Ray Brook, a group of state workers from the DEC, Adirondack Park Agency and other agencies stood along the road between the two agencies to pay their respects to McKay as the motorcade passed. The DEC headquarters there served as the command center during the search for McKay.
McKay's body was scheduled to be taken to a funeral home in Queens today and then flown to Australia on Friday.
The 31-year-old was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Police said he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
McKay was reported missing by his father Jan. 3 after he sent him an email from a Saranac Lake hotel leaving him all his possessions. His family didn't know McKay had traveled here. Village police determined that McKay flew to the U.S. on Dec. 28, took a bus to Saranac Lake and stayed at the Best Western Mountain Lake Inn the night of Dec. 30.
He left the village on foot the following morning and was last seen walking on the railroad tracks near the federal prison in Ray Brook. Following an intensive, nearly two-week search by police, forest rangers and volunteers, McKay's body was found on a shoulder of Scarface Mountain on Jan. 15. Authorities said he committed suicide by hypothermia.
McKay's disappearance was covered extensively by the Australian print, television and radio news media. Since the discovery of his body, Australians have been expressing their grief, and their thanks to those involved in the search, through emails, phone calls and Facebook messages to village and state police, the DEC, village Mayor Clyde Rabideau and the Enterprise.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.