ELYRIA — Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans said Friday the remains found in Elyria are consistent with the height of Tierra Bryant but it’s still too early in the investigation to make a positive identification.
On Friday, the day after skeletal remains were found buried 4 feet in the ground in a wooded area off Mussey Avenue, a forensic team was in the morgue piecing together the bones to determine if the skeletal remains were complete.
“We think we got everything, but there is a fair amount of degradation,” Evans said.
The FBI conducted several searches over the last few months in connection with the March 30, 2015, disappearance of 19-year-old Bryant from a Middleburg Heights hotel.
Bryant was last seen in the company of Rashad Hunt, 30, also known as Rashan.
Late last month, after Hunt was arrested in California and charged with voluntary manslaughter, he walked the grounds with investigators and showed them the spot where Bryant’s body was supposedly buried.
Hunt also is charged with felonious assault, tampering with evidence, offenses against a human corpse and obstructing official business.
Middleburg Heights Police Chief John Maddox said Friday that if the body turns out to be Bryant — which he believes it is — additional charges could be coming for Hunt.
“I believe that that’s probably her,” Maddox said. “What leads me to believe that that’s the case … is because it’s exactly the location that the suspect told us it’s going to be in.
“That would be an awfully big coincidence if it wasn’t her,” Maddox said.
Maddox and Evans said praise should go to the FBI response team that discovered a slight change in the topsoil that turned out to be the site of the skeletal remains.
The difference in soil was invisible to the untrained eye, Evans said.
“They found a circular area that the above-ground dirt was different than the surrounding dirt,” Evans said. “These guys are absolutely amazing at the things they can do. It was something I would have easily walked by. The FBI deserves all the credit for finding and getting the body out of the ground.”
Maddox said even specially trained police dogs missed the clues.
“We’d gone over that whole area before with expert K-9 units — dogs that are well known for having success — and apparently went right by it,” Maddox said.
Evans said he hopes investigators will be able to pull dental records to identify the remains, but if that doesn’t work they will try to match DNA with samples from Bryant’s family.
“If they can do a good dental match, we could know in a day or two. If we have to run DNA off the samples that we have and compare that to the DNA of family members, that could take weeks,” Evans said.
Evans described the process of finding the remains as “painstaking” work involving sifting through dirt bit by bit.
He said all the major bones were recovered but some of the smaller bones may have been destroyed by the environment.
Investigators also found particles of clothing, but nothing identifiable.
“There was nothing I could recognize as ‘Oh, this was the blouse she was wearing,’” Evans said.
After the search, the FBI used an excavator from the city of Elyria to replace the dirt and close the site.
“We’re pretty satisfied that we found who we were looking for,” Evans said. “It’s still under investigation; we just have to do the final proof at this point.”
For Maddox, who has five business days left of his 45-year career in policing, it’s even more meaningful.
“I’m really happy to see that we could put an end to the long, long, long hours of investigating that we were all involved in,” Maddox said. “I was starting to feel bad that we were going to have a loose end, and I also felt bad for the family that they weren’t going to have closure.”
Maddox also thanked the Elyria Police Department for its cooperation and help with the investigation.
“That’s kind of the norm across departments,” Maddox said. “We’re very different police departments, but when it’s things like this, we come together for the goal.”
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