October 29, 2020

Mississippi dig may have found bones of missing Maryland man

Investigators in southwest Mississippi may have found human remains in the search for a Maryland college student who disappeared in May 1995.

“They have found some items that look promising — a high probability of human bone,” district attorney’s investigator Truett Simmons on Friday told The Enterprise-Journal of McComb. “We’re not going to know for certain till we send it off to experts.”

An archaeologist said the remains appear to be charred bone fragments, possibly belonging to 19-year-old Donald Lee Izzett Jr. A witness previously told investigators that the Cumberland, Maryland, teen was shot three times and his body burned at the isolated Fernwood property.

Izzett was on a cross-country trip after his freshman year in college, and his mother last heard from him when he called from California, crying and seeking money to return home.

No one has been arrested, but Izzett’s estate last month filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Shane Guenther, formerly of Fernwood and now of Bremerton, Washington. It alleges that Izzett died after a fight with Guenther.

Guenther’s lawyer, Cynthia H. Speetjens of Madison, Mississippi, has denied the claim in federal court.

“The plaintiff has no proof that Donald Lee Izzett Jr. died as the result of any act committed by Shane Guenther,” Speetjens wrote. She declined further comment to The Associated Press on Monday.

Prosecutors are more likely to file criminal charges if remains have been found, Simmons said. So far, they’ve been withheld for lack of evidence.

It’s the third dig at the Fernwood site.

Previous searches in Pike County for Izzett in the late 1990s, 2016 and 2017 were fruitless.

Izzett’s mother, Debra Izzett Skelley, learned of the find Friday morning when she visited archaeologists at their guest house.

“When I got in there they just started hugging me and holding me and told me they were very confident,” Skelley said at the dig location Friday. “Of course, it has to be tested.”

Archaeologist Lynn Funkhouser said one piece of burned bone is clearly human. She said two more fragments are “very probably human.”

Verifying human remains will require a specialist. Determining that they belong to Izzett is “much trickier,” Funkhouser said.

“I feel like we will be able to proceed without identification (of Izzett), but we will take every possible step to identify the remains,” Simmons said.

The remains were at the surface of the ground under grass where a “burn event” had taken place.

After the remains were found, “we approached the site as though it’s a potential crime scene,” Funkhouser said. She said it appears someone deliberately broke up the bones and tried to collect the pieces after burning them.

An attorney for Izzett’s mother said finding remains would confirm the story of the witness.

“That young man could not have known if he had not been here,” Bill Goodwin said. “His veracity is proved at every step.”