Large fragments of the commemorative MLK t-shirt the woman was wearing
LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. -- Who was she?
Her skeletal remains were found on Sunday, Aug. 5, off of Azalea Drive near Lawrenceville, in a creek bed, in a small forest accessible only by crossing the residential properties surrounding the woods.
The medical examiner estimates she died sometime between about four months ago and a year ago.
And Gwinnett County Police are hoping for the public's help identifying her.
In the Gwinnett County morgue on Friday, the medical examiner, Carol Terry, M.D., showed 11Alive's Jon Shirek the skeletal remains carefully placed on an examination table; the red, polyester jacket that the young woman was wearing when her remains were found; and what is left of the woman's t-shirt from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, commemorating the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination.
Does anyone know a missing young woman who wore them?
Dr. Terry said the woman was African American.
Her age: 16 to 22
Her height: 5-8 to 6-0 feet
"We're talking about a relatively tall female," Dr. Terry said. "Most of the articles of clothing are either large or extra large. So you're probably looking at not a petite individual."
And there were no cavities or fillings in her teeth.
Gwinnett County Police Corporal Jake Smith said there is not enough information about the woman, yet, to plug into national and state data bases of missing women to try to find a match.
"Not specific enough," Cpl. Smith said. "We just don't have enough to go on to get a real powerful search going."
One website, blackandmissinginc.com, lists 34 African American Georgia women missing, and five or six of the woman may fit the vague description of the remains.
Detectives are focusing on three missing Metro Atlanta women, to start.
The three women's DNA samples are already on file at the Center for Human Identification in Texas. So next week, the medical examiner will send samples of the woman's remains to that lab, to see if there is a match.
Even if there is no match among those three, ultimately "I'm looking at DNA being the step that we have to take in order to positively identify this young female," Dr. Terry said.
Excerpts from interviews with Cpl. Smith and Dr. Terry on Friday, August 10, 2012:
Cpl. Jake Smith
Gwinnett County Police Department
We're investigating this as a suspicious death so far, not as homicide. Certainly the circumstances of where her body was found are suspicious.
There was no evidence of stab wounds, broken bones or defects caused by bullets in the skeleton. So there's nothing in the skeleton itself to indicate that there was a homicide.
In this case, detectives have sorted through quite a few (of the current reports of missing women who might match the remains); they have a couple of cases that are loose matches. Not really as close as we would like to see. And we're going to go further and do things like check dental records to see if they are, in fact, a match.
There's quite a few missing people in (the state database of missing women), but there's not a whole lot that match the information we have, so far. There may be dozens in the state of Georgia. I would say it would not likely be more than dozens that fall into this range we've been able to narrow it to, at this point.
In this case there was nothing with her remains to identify her, no purse, no ID. The only identifying features we have to go on really are her clothing.
The medical examiner's office estimates now that she's been there between four months to a year.
Hopefully we will get that call (from a relative of the woman), it's tough in this situation because even those items of clothing are not that distinct. Even your friends have a lot of sets of clothes that you may never have seen before in your life.
Detectives want to conduct computer searches of databases of missing women, but the limited information they have of the remains is not specific enough. We just don't have enough to go on to get a real powerful search going.
I mean, this could be a missing person from some time ago who just was not deceased until, you know, the past year or so. Possibly a runaway who was 13 or 14 when she left home and lived away from home for five or six years before dying some time in the past year.
Carol Terry, M.D.
Gwinnett Co. Medical Examiner
The remains were scattered.
Of the bones that we have, none of them show any evidence of traumatic injury. But that doesn't mean that she couldn't have been stabbed or shot or something. Just that the bones that we have don't show any evidence of trauma. Also we are missing an important bone in the neck that you often look at to help decide whether or not someone was strangled or not. So thus far I can't tell anything about how this individual died.
And in examining the bones and consulting with a forensic anthropologist, we've arrived at an approximate age range from mid to late teens to early twenties. The range that I'm comfortable with is that this individual is going to be between 16 and 22.
The teeth that we have recovered appear to be in good shape, no cavities, no fillings, but we are missing a handful of teeth that were lost after death.
I'm looking at DNA being the step that we have to take in order to positively identify this young female.
But looking at the remains as they were lying up on the creek bed, they were not covered by leaves, also there was still some soft tissue associated with some of the remains. I think it's going to be less than a year but at least several months since she died.
No evidence of any kind of orthopedic intervention, or bone fractures, nothing like that.
We're talking about a relatively tall female, and most of the articles of clothing are either large or extra large. So you're probably looking at not a petite individual.
She was wearing a red jacket... The Martin Luther King t-shirt from the National Civil Rights Museum... There's a sleeveless tank top... The bra was a size 38DD... Also associated with the remains were two ankle length socks that had a red ring around the top.
Anyone with information on this case should contact Gwinnett County Police detectives at 770-513-5300