FERNWOOD, Miss. (AP) — Investigators in southwest Mississippi may have found human remains in the search for a Maryland college student who disappeared in May 1995.
“They have found some items that look promising — a high probability of human bone,” The Enterprise-Journal quoted McComb district attorney’s investigator Truett Simmons as saying of Thursday’s discovery. “We’re not going to know for certain till we send it off to experts.”
An archaeologist said the remains appear to be charred bone fragments, possibly belonging to 19-year-old Donald Lee Izzett Jr. A witness previously told investigators that the Cumberland, Maryland, teen was shot three times and his body burned at the isolated Fernwood property.
Izzett was on a cross-country trip after his freshman year in college, and his mother last heard from him when he called from California, crying and seeking money to return home.
No one has been arrested, but Izzett’s estate last month filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Shane Guenther, formerly of Fernwood and now of Bremerton, Washington. It alleges that Izzett died after a fight with Guenther.
Guenther’s lawyer, Cynthia H. Speetjens of Madison, Mississippi, has denied the claim in federal court.
“The plaintiff has no proof that Donald Lee Izzett Jr. died as the result of any act committed by Shane Guenther,” Speetjens wrote. She declined further comment to The Associated Press on Monday.
Last week was the third dig at the Fernwood site. Previous searches in Pike County for Izzett in the late 1990s, 2016 and 2017 were fruitless.
Izzett’s mother, Debra Izzett Skelley, learned of the find Friday morning when she visited archaeologists at their guest house.
“When I got in there they just started hugging me and holding me and told me they were very confident,” Skelley said at the dig location Friday. “Of course, it has to be tested.”
Archaeologist Lynn Funkhouser said the fragments are “very probably human.”
Verifying human remains will require a specialist. Determining that they belong to Izzett is “much trickier,” Funkhouser said.
“I feel like we will be able to proceed without identification (of Izzett), but we will take every possible step to identify the remains,” Simmons said.
The remains were at the surface of the ground under grass where a “burn event” had taken place, Simmons said. She said it appears someone tried to collect the bone pieces after they were burned and broken up.
An attorney for Izzett’s mother said finding remains would confirm the witness’ story.
“That young man could not have known if he had not been here,” Bill Goodwin said. “His veracity is proved at every step.”
Correction: In a story June 3 about a cold case excavation, The Associated Press reported erroneously how an anthropologist had described charred bone fragments. Anthropologist Lynn Funkhouser described the fragments as “very probably human,” not clearly human.
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