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Rockingham County, N.C. Sheriff News Conference

Aired September 26, 2002 - 07:44   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go straight to Rockingham County, North Carolina, where investigators there are about to hold a news conference about a skull that was found there yesterday -- let's listen in.

SHERIFF SAM PAGE, ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA: ... will be coming down also in a little bit to assist also.

Yesterday around 1:30 or 2:00, we received some information from a neighbor that his dogs apparently had brought up some skeletal remains, and he notified one of our investigators, at which time we launched an investigation to determine the whereabouts and the origin of where these bones and bone items came from.

Throughout the evening, we did conduct a search of the gentlemen's immediate area of his residence where several of these bone items were strewed around apparently by some of the canine pets.

During the process last night, we also emptied a pond that had several thousands of gallons. It was about five or six hour process. And the water is down to now -- it was about a five foot pond, and now it's down to maybe a foot or so.

But we will be going back -- around 8:00 this morning, we will be going back and conducting a search at that location and working our way out systemically, because we have two things we want to do today. No. 1, is we want to systematically search that area and try to see if there are any more bone fragments and try to collect those items. And then, also, try to find out the origin of where those items, those bone fragments, came from.

Also, we're expecting information -- in our second news conference around 9:30 or 9:45 this morning, we are expecting some information from the Virginia authorities. Yesterday, some hair fibers and samples were recovered from our crime scene, and they were taken to the lab, I think in Roanoke, Virginia, for analysis for a determination or elimination in regards to the Jennifer Short issue.

We do not have any missing persons in Rockingham County, and we're not aware of anyone in our surrounding communities having any missing persons. However, we felt we needed to notify them, because they do have someone missing, and we would like to see an elimination done on this.

So, again, we're expecting the information around 7:00 -- excuse me -- around 9:45, 10:00 at the latest, from the Virginia authorities, who will be coming here to the command post here at Dan Valley Community Building.

To my left, I have Jeannie Justice. She is my public information officer. That's Jeannie Justice, public information officer. If you have any questions or anything, and you cannot get a hold of me, Jeannie will help you and assist you.

To my right is Major Jim Thomas. Major Jim Thomas is my chief deputy. He will be conducting and coordinating the search efforts with all of the rescue and fire and law enforcement officers at the alternative location. He will be answering a few questions, and he will talk and kind of lead you through a little bit about what's going to go on today.

Again, this is kind of a follow-up search from yesterday. The scene was secured last night. Staff were on scene throughout the evening, and the scene was kept contained until the present.

We will be going back again and conducting a systematic search to try to determine again if there are anymore bone fragments out there, and also the origin of those bone fragments that were recovered.

At this time, I'm going to turn it to Major Thomas, and I'll ask...

QUESTION: Sheriff, just one quick question. Are there any hunches this is the little girl that's been missing in Virginia?

PAGE: At this time -- at this time, I'm not going to speculate. I'm not going to speculate on that. We're going to wait for the official response from the Virginia authorities, because they have the best information.

At this time, I'm going to turn it to Major Thomas, and let him give you a little bit of a brief about what's going on.

And again, I want to thank everyone from all of the rescue squads and law enforcement and people that are coming out and assisting today, because we couldn't do it without their help. And again, I want to thank you for your patience also -- Major Thomas.

MAJ. JIM THOMAS, COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Just to reiterate, we did send a hair sample with Henry County last night, and that was hand-delivered to the lab in Roanoke. We do not have any results of that, and hopefully, later on in the morning when Henry Country arrives, we will be able to add some to that and be able to give you an answer on whether this is Jennifer Short or not.

As the sheriff said, we did continue throughout the night and late into the night trying to drain the pond as much as we could. The reason for that was that a lot of the bone fragments and skeletal remains were located around the pond area. So, we felt it necessary to drain the pond. That will need to be searched today, along with the rest of the property, and we'll be broadening our search today to possibly go out to half a mile to maybe two miles at the most, if we have to.

Again, we have volunteers from the search and rescue, fire and police personnel from all agencies that will be assisting. We'll be doing a systematic search covering north, south, east and west of the property, and we will be looking for skeletal remains. We have -- I would be exaggerating if I said we had a quarter (ph). We may -- we don't even have that much. We still have the bulk of skeletal remains still there. We have not actually found what we would consider a crime scene at this point in time. Hopefully, we will find the rest of it intact. That is our purpose for today.

With our rescue personnel and volunteers helping, the procedure that we'll have -- you'll have your assignments once you get to the -- once you get to the search site. But any evidence that is located, we are flagging those with an orange flag, and our crime scene investigator will be collecting that evidence.

So, if you come up on any -- we're looking for pieces of skeletal remains that could be anywhere from one inch in length to an arm bone, a leg bone. We still have some large portions that we have not found.

We appreciate everyone participating in this with us today. Without this volunteerism, we wouldn't be able to cover the territory that I think we'll be able to cover today.

We're going to have to put up with the elements, which is going to probably make it a little more difficult for the skeletal remains to be found.

I will be in charge of that effort, and every two hours, I will be coming back here to brief the sheriff on what we have found, any progress we have made, and you will be briefed immediately. And that will be every two hours, and sooner if needed.

QUESTION: Major, can you just detail everything that's been found so far? And what connection, if any -- have you ruled out the cemetery in the area there?

THOMAS: Well, of course, no, we have not ruled out the cemetery. We found portions of the skull. We found portions of teeth, the bottom teeth and some upper teeth. We do have some things that would be able to be compared.

At this point in time, our efforts are going to be strictly to collect evidence and collect as many parts of this skeletal remain that we can. That is the main thing we're concentrating on today. The next step then would be, once we have those, to try to go through the identification process, and it's going to be a long process, because these fragments and skeletal remains were scattered throughout the yard, around the pond, and it covered a large area.

QUESTION: There's a skull, there is teeth. Is there anything else that you have found? THOMAS: There was some hair, almost a full head of hair was found.

QUESTION: What color?

THOMAS: It was red at this point.

QUESTION: Any clothing?

THOMAS: No clothing at this point.

ZAHN: If you're just joining us, you are tuned in to a news conference out of Rockingham County, North Carolina, where investigators have confirmed they have found a skull, in addition to bone fragments. They are not sure where these fragments came from. They have taken a sample of hair from the skull to send to Virginia authorities, where little Jennifer Short was found missing over a month ago.

Now, these authorities are making very clear that they're not going to speculate if, in fact, this is her skull. They said they have reason to believe there have been no missing person reports filed in their county, but they are passing along this information to Virginia authorities, because that search has gone on for so long for Jennifer Short.

If you will remember, her parents were killed back on August 15 in Virginia.

So, that's the latest we've got for you, and as soon as we have more information on that story, we'll bring it to you live.


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