Charred bone fragments found in Fernwood, Mississippi, may be the remains of a teen who disappeared during a cross-country trip back in 1995. This was the third time investigators had searched the isolated Pike County property in the years since then.
The 19-year-old Maryland college student's mother last spoke to her son when he called her from California. She said he was crying and asking her to send him money so that he could get back home. It's not clear how he ended up in Mississippi -- if the remains indeed belong to him.
Investigators had interviewed a young man who claimed that the missing teen was shot, and then his body was burned. No one was arrested for the crime, in part because no remains had been found. However, an attorney for the teen's mother says, "That young man could not have known if he had not been here. His veracity is proved at every step."
Despite the lack of evidence for criminal charges, the young man's estate filed a wrongful death suit just last month against a man who used to live in Fernwood. The site where the bone fragments were found was under a piece of ground where a "burn event" had occurred, according to an investigator for the district attorney's office.
According to the suit, the two men had been engaged in a fight when the teen was killed. The attorney for the defendant in the suit said in federal court that the "plaintiff has no proof" that her client caused the young man's death.
One of the archeologists involved in the dig said that one piece of bone is definitely human, and two more are "very probably human." However, after all of these years, confirming the decedent's identity will be "much trickier." She says it appears that someone deliberately broke the bones into fragments in order to collect them after they were burned.
Successfully prosecuting (or even bringing) a criminal case requires a much higher degree of evidence than pursuing a civil wrongful death suit does. The O.J. Simpson case, which is 25 years old this month, is a good example of that. While a wrongful death suit may not result in the level of punishment that surviving loved ones would hope for, it is a way to hold those believed to be responsible for someone's death accountable in some way.