Benjamin Cannon, age 20, went missing from Omaha, NE in March 1995.
He left the family residence after his mother caught him smoking pot in the basement. He did not return. A friend of Ben’s told Ben’s family that he had left with the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a modern-day hippie group. The Rainbow Family holds large annual gatherings in National Forests around the country each July, along with smaller regional gatherings at various times of the year.
Personally, I am a bit skeptical of the “Rainbow Family” theory. It seems unusual to me that a friend of Ben’s would know that he left with this group, but not know the who, how, or where. The Rainbow Family hadn’t held any recent gatherings in Omaha that I could find, and the internet was still in its infancy and far from being commonplace in homes. How would Ben have known about the Rainbow Family? Where did he plan to meet them? How was he going to get there? Who introduced him to the group?
While I am skeptical, based on what I’ve read, I certainly don’t dismiss it as a possibility.
Some sites that profile Ben’s disappearance, including the Nebraska State Patrol’s official site, refer to The Rainbow Family as a religious cult – although after doing extensive reading on the group, it does not appear to be a cult.
From what I have read, The Rainbow Family does not have any leadership or membership, and its gatherings are their only function. The gatherings are held in U.S. National Forests, and consist of a one week campout. Food is provided through donations, and luxuries such as crafts, and even Snickers bars, are bartered. I would equate it to an annual reenactment of the original Woodstock.
Outside of the gatherings, however, it appears that most attendees have homes, jobs, and families. The Rainbow Family does not financially support people throughout the year. They don’t maintain “safe houses”, and it doesn’t appear that their gatherings are frequent enough that one could survive just by attending gatherings.
The gatherings do attract problems, though. Because of the lack of facilities in the National Forests where they gather, human waste is a problem, and has led to many attendees ending up in the emergency room. The group also tends to attract unsavory characters, as many large gatherings do. I have read of a few people turning up deceased during the gatherings, although the majority of these were from natural causes.
An annual gathering was held in the Carson National Forest in Northern New Mexico in July 1995, four months after Benjamin Cannon disappeared. The Carson National Forest encompasses several wilderness areas, including the Pecos Wilderness.
In 2009, a set of partial remains, belonging to a white male, age 22-49, was located in a forest area in Taos (although the Carson National Forest isn’t mentioned specifically), and was believed to have been there for quite awhile. The Carson National Forest is partially in Taos. The remains did not match anyone from the local area who had been reported missing, and are still unidentified. It is also mentioned that a skull was located in the same area in 2006, but investigators have not been able to confirm that the two findings belong to the same person. I will submit this possibility to NamUs, and will update if I receive any additional information.
In researching the Rainbow Family, I also came across a fairly new Facebook page called “Rainbow Family’s Most Wanted“. Several people have posted information on their missing loved ones, who they believe may have ties to the group. There is also information warning others of certain people who have committed crimes against them, or caused problems for the group. I think this would be a great place for Ben’s family to post an inquiry – hopefully they stumble onto my blog and see this!
I also wonder if Ben would have been attracted to the grunge scene in Seattle at the time. It was still a popular spot for a young man to be in 1995, despite the beginning of the grunge decline.
Law Enforcement refused to accept a missing persons report for several years after Ben went missing, which is unfortunate. People who may have been acquainted with him then may not remember much now, and people who may be acquainted with him now may not recognize him from photos dated 18 years ago.
Ben, if you’re out there somewhere, please know that your family misses you and would love nothing more than to hear that you’re ok.