New Castle News

TOP STORIES

November 20, 2010

Digging Deep: Forensic team using every tool to locate missing teen

(Continued)

NEW CASTLE — A FRUSTRATING CASE

Katrina Young of Marathon, Fla., shares Dirkmaat’s frustration in the search for Laura’s bones. The cold case was the first dig the Mercyhurst graduate student had joined where there is no map or clearly defined area.

Typically, they would carefully document the precise locations, but in Laura’s case, it’s all guesswork.

“Basically we were looking for any human remains that might turn up,” Dirkmaat said.

Previous searches by Dirkmaat and his students included the somber combing of land in Shanksville, Somerset County, looking for body parts after United Airlines Flight 93 was downed during a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

The search for Laura proved more difficult after 17 years.

“It’s very unlikely anything would be left, other than bone,” Dirkmaat said.

The keen noses of cadaver dogs are useful, but they too, were unsuccessful. Even a Belgian malanois trained exclusively to detect the scent of decomposition came up empty. In some spots, the dog would stop and bark, but Dirkmaat’s team tested those and found nothing.

A CREDIBLE SCHOOL

Dirkmaat has been training students at Mercyhurst since 1991. An aspect of their study involves feeling bone fragments and tiny bones of hands in paper bags to learn their size, shape and texture.

His doctorate in anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh led him to a position in the Allegheny County Coroner’s office in the late 1980s, working alongside Coroner Joshua Perper, who preceded Dr. Cyril Wecht.

Dirkmaat boasts being the 50th person in the country to be certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, an achievement that requires a few years of casework.

Mercyhurst’s forensic program is competitive.

“We like to think it’s the best one in the country,” he noted.

The school selects only five to eight students each year out of 80 applicants because “we don’t want to flood the market.”

Young, designated as the scene photographer, enrolled in the graduate school because of the hands-on experience she would gain, plus the certain satisfaction from completing a quest.

“It’s nice be able to recover the remains and provide closure to families who have been waiting a long time to learn the whereabouts of a loved one,” she said.

The team will resume its dig in the spring.

That, Dirkmaat said, is when new plant life perforates the soil and could transport the scent of human remains above ground.

But he’s not optimistic.

“I don’t think we’re going to find anything there,” he said.

“It’s a longshot, but often when looking for buried bodies, spring is the best time.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
TOP STORIES
  • backpackproject.jpg Councilman picks up tab to help lunch program

    Participants of a local summer feeding program are eating this week courtesy of New Castle City Councilman Tim Fulkerson. On Friday morning, the truck dispatched from New Castle to pick up about 3,500 pounds of items from the Pittsburgh Food Bank broke down as it arrived at its destination.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • CRESTVIEW.jpg Outreach: Churches plan to host picnic for residents of Crestview Gardens

    Volunteers from several area churches are banding together in hopes of bringing peace to a troubled neighborhood.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • money.jpg Council OKs funds to remove dead trees

    New Castle City Council has approved spending funds from its contingency account to remove some trees at Darlington Park. Marshall Tree Experts of Ellwood City has given an estimate of $12,000 to remove the large elm trees from the Mahoningtown park.

     
     

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • 12.jpg Photo Gallery, Story: Night light

    The balloons may have been on the ground but spirits were soaring.

     

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo 1 Slideshow

  • StateFair.jpg 'State Fair' coming to Playhouse

    The fair is coming to town. No, not the Lawrence County Fair, although that is right around the corner. This is the Iowa State Fair, and it will be live on the stage of the New Castle Playhouse for three weeks, starting Friday night.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • accountant.jpg DeLorenzo’s status with authority unchanged

    Deno DeLorenzo’s status as a contract employee with the New Castle Sanitation Authority remains unchanged. Authority board members met with DeLorenzo last week regarding an investigation by the Lawrence County district attorney’s office involving Shenango Township funds.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Shooting.jpg Detroit area man dies in Ellwood City gunfire

    A triple shooting in an Ellwood City street has claimed the life of a Detroit area man. Gunfire erupted in the middle of Loop Street outside the Walnut Ridge housing project around 10:20 p.m. Sunday, according to state police.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Baptism1.jpg Dipped downtown

    John the Baptist identified himself as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’ ” On Saturday, local evangelist Randy Crum once again took a cue from the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, eschewing the locusts and honey that John was known to munch on but heading out into the wilds to baptize believers and challenge them to share their faith with their community.

    July 21, 2014 3 Photos

  • lamancusa.jpg Tanner, district attorney: No comment

    The Lawrence County District Attorney is keeping mum about a probe into finances in Shenango Township. “We don’t talk about ongoing investigations,” Lamancusa said Friday.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo 5 Stories

  • Shenango1.jpg Shenango Township: Supervisors fire Tanner, release DeLorenzo

    The Shenango supervisors fired township secretary/treasurer Brian Tanner and terminated auditor and consultant Deno DeLorenzo last night.

    July 18, 2014 3 Photos 4 Stories

House Ads
Poll

Summer is a perfect time for a good read. Where's your favorite place to spend off time with your nose in a book?

Relaxing on the couch
On a bench in the park
By the pool
At the closest beach
I don't have time to read
     View Results