AMHERST COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ7) - Remains found in March in the Panther Falls area are confirmed to be those of a man reported missing last year, according to state police.
Buena Vista Police had been investigating the May 2019 disappearance of Chad Austin, 30.
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management, various Search and Rescue canine teams, Buena Vista Police Department, Virginia State Police and Amherst County Sheriff's Office contributed to the search and recovery operation.
In addition to the skeletal remains, 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,” said Virginia State Police Special Agent K.A. Zirkle. “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. 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."
Austin was reported missing after his silver 2006 Hyundai Tiburon was found 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.
Investigators confirmed Austin was seen May 27, 2019, Memorial Day, by campers in the Panther Falls area, east of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A search of the immediate area resulted in several keys and personal items belonging to Mr. Austin being found about half a mile from the abandoned car.
"The Austin family has been relentless in their search for Chad,” said Buena Vista Police Chief Richard Hartman. “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.”“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,” said Zirkle.
Because Austin's remains were discovered in Amherst County and not within the city limits of Buena Vista, the Virginia State Police will assume the lead on the investigation, working with Buena Vista Police, Amherst County Sheriff’s Office and Rockbridge County Sheriff's Office.
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.
Copyright 2020 WDBJ7. All rights reserved.