Authorities in Virginia have confirmed that remains found in Panther Falls in March were that of a man who went missing in May 2019. Cops say the remains belong to Chad Austin, 30, whom Buena Vista Police have been searching for since he was reported missing a year ago.
In addition to the skeletal remains which were uncovered in March, forensic investigators found property and evidence that is being tested at the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.
"From the outset, the investigators assigned to this case recognized the distinct possibility that Chad would not be found alive,” Virginia State Police Special Agent K.A. Zirkle said in a statement. “Because of that, this case has been handled as a homicide investigation from the very beginning.
"That means that while we have been diligently searching for Chad with the hopes of finding him safe and well, investigators with the Buena Vista Police Department and state police have been collecting and documenting evidence and information that would explain how he died, and who could be responsible for Chad's death," Zirkle continued. "Make no mistake, much headway has been made in the last year. As unfortunate as this development is, finding Chad's remains allows us to now focus exclusively on the circumstances leading to his death."
Authorities say Austin was last seen Memorial Day 2019 and his car was found the following day, May 28, 2019, in Amherst County. The car was abandoned about two miles down the turnoff for Panther Falls Road. His dog was found unharmed and locked inside the car.
"The Austin family has been relentless in their search for Chad,” Buena Vista Police Chief Richard Hartman said in a statement. “Sadly, now they are grieving the loss of a son and brother. The Austins are longtime members of this community and they deserve our respect. And they deserve privacy. Most of all, they deserve answers. We intend to find those answers as we continue to pursue this investigation in partnership with state police.”
State police said that while the remains are confirmed to be that of Austin, their investigation has not concluded.
“We are confident that there are persons in the community with relevant information that could help bring this case to a logical conclusion. We want to assure local residents that the multi-agency investigative team actively pursuing this case will continue to conduct additional interviews and forensic examinations. A number of people have already come forward - and we are grateful for their trust - but those who have been reluctant are still encouraged to call the Virginia State Police,” Zirkle added.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Salem Field Office at 1-800-542-5959 or 540-375-9589, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.