Remains appear to be from one individual, Sheriff Rick Staly said.
The search for human remains at a construction site in the Toscana development ramped up on July 27 as an anthropology team from the University of South Florida used high-pressure water hoses and specialized equipment to sift through giant mounds of dirt.
Construction workers discovered a human bone at the site behind New Leatherwood Drive on July 18. Since then, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office found fragments of a jaw, skull and other bones.
“At this point, there’s no indication that this is a dumpsite for a killer. It may be a dumpsite for a killer, but so far, for just one individual.”
— SHERIFF RICK STALY
“So far, indications are that it’s one person,” Sheriff Rick Staly said during a news conference at the site as bulldozers and excavators were scooping up dirt to be sifted. “We found two femurs. If we find a third, we have a problem. At this point, there’s no indication that this is a dumpsite for a killer. It may be a dumpsite for a killer, but so far, for just one individual.”
Staly and Forensic Anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, who is leading the USF team, said they believe the remains are no older than a couple of decades.
“We do have a number of missing persons,” Staly said. “Amongst our team we are speculating on a couple of cases. But until we can identify the remains, we won’t know that for sure.”
Staly said they should be able to identify the person through dental or DNA evidence. In every missing person case, they collect DNA, he said.
“Today we started this large-scale operation and we have recovered other fragments that we believe will identify the individual,” Staly said. “Until we can find more skeletal remains, we really don’t know what happened to this individual.”
The Sheriff’s Office reached out to Kimmerle and her team because of their specialized equipment and their experience excavating the remains of 55 bodies at Florida’s infamous Dozier School for Boys in 2014.
This excavation is different, Kimmerle said. At a burial site you have a confined space. At the Toscana site, it’s a matter of covering a lot of ground.
“What makes this case so difficult is we don’t know where the bones were initially uncovered,” Staly said. “The good thing is the developer did not bring any dirt into the site, so we know everything occurred here. I want to thank the developer. He had to shut down his operations.”
Officers have gone through an area at least a football field long, Staly said. At first, officers were dry-sifting in five gallon buckets.
“This is just a way to cover a lot of dirt as quick as possible. The water will push the sand and soil through and helps us get through big piles.”
— DR. ERIN KIMMERLE
The USF team of undergraduate and graduate students had two stations, each with double screens of a quarter inch and an eighth inch. Pressurized water forces large quantities of dirt through the screens. Rocks, shells and bones remain on top where they can be examined.
“This is just a way to cover a lot of dirt as quick as possible,” Kimmerle said. “The water will push the sand and soil through and helps us get through big piles.”
About 30 people and several agencies joined in the operation including members of the USF team; FDLE officers; the Medical Examiner’s office; Sheriff deputies and crime scene investigators; the Palm Coast Fire Department, which provided the water operation; and the county, which provided the excavators, Staly said.
Staly said no clothing, shoes or jewelry had been found, but added that it was still early in the operation.
“We anticipate this site will be active at least through Friday (July 29), maybe longer depending what the doctor says we need to do,” he said. “I really appreciate the anthropology department at South Florida coming to assist us. No one else I know in the state has that kind of sifters to be able to move this much dirt so quick and make sure we don’t lose evidence or fragments.”