ALLEGHANY COUNTY(WSLS 10) – A 30-year-old cold case involving a missing Alleghany County teenager is now closed.
The sheriff's office identified the remains of 17-year-old Michael Perdue.
His body was found along the bank of the Jackson River, south of the railroad tracks, a few hundred feet southwest of the intersection of Jackson and Byrd Avenue in Covington by a fisherman back in 1986.
For three decades, the remains, known only as "John Covington Doe," now have a face, a name and a family.
Sheriff Kevin Hall of Alleghany County made the announcement Wednesday and at times was brought to tears.
"Today is a great day," Hall said. "It's a great day to be wearing a badge."
A day that after 30 years of waiting, police and family thought may never happen.
Brother Wally Perdue, who lived in Covington with his brother, was finally holding his brothers ashes.
"It's a blessing. It's finally closure for our family. It's been a long time," Perdue said.
17-year-old Michael Perdue of Covington went missing on May 2,1985, a year before his body was found.
He was reported missing on May 4, 1985 to the Covington Police Department.
Perdue was originally from Detroit, Michigan, but moved to Covington after he and his brother Wally were put up for adoption.
Hall said after speaking with the family, he learned that Perdue and his brother ‘faced many hardships growing up.'
Michael was abandoned by his father when he was very young and never met him.
His mother died of a drug overdose when he was young. One of his brothers later died in an accidental house fire. Michael had a history of running away and getting into trouble with local police. He moved to live with his grandmother in 1984 after being put up for adoption.
She was later unable to care for the boys after he was charged with larceny. Custody of the two boys was transferred to his uncle Donnie Persinger. Michael disappeared at the time he was living with his uncle.
The night after Michael disappeared, the police department said it believed that he was involved in a firebomb incident that happened at a local gas station in Covington on May 3. Police say one of Michael's friends was arrested and charged with the incident. Police believe Michael was with his friend at the time of the firebomb, ran from the scene and tried to swim across the river to get away from police, but drowned.
Police said when his remains were found, they believed they could have belonged to Michael, but had no way to prove it and could not locate a next of kin.
His brother Wally had moved back to Michigan, searching for Michael.
Sheriff Kevin Hall was there that day, just starting on the force.
"I remember I had a lieutenant who was probably 65 years old at the time, and said, ‘ahh you will probably never find out who it is," Hall recalled.
Emotionally, Hall says he never gave up.
Although how Perdue died is still a mystery, the family who never stopped looking is relieved to finally have an answer. Sister Sandra Miller said it's been a traumatic experience for the entire family.
"Nobody knew where he went. We've had family members in the past that never believed that he was gone. They thought that he would walk through the door one day and say,' hi I'm home.' But this is closure. We know now," Miller said.
While they will never know for sure, the siblings accept that he most likely drowned. They say, "the mountains took him." Wally Perdue recalls he and his brother walking all through the mountains of Covington. Both siblings agree that the boys were mischievous and at times misguided, but were never bad people.
Now they're ready to take him home to Michigan.
"We get to do this for him and put him with our other brother," Perdue said. "I feel that his spirit is still walking this earth. Once we lay him to rest then he can go home with the rest of the family. So there is a lot of heaven involved in this too," Perdue said.
While receiving the phone call that a loved one is dead is never easy, the siblings say it was almost a relief after 30 years to finally know the fate of their younger brother. Wally says it was confirming a truth he knew in his heart for a very long time.
"I knew almost. I knew almost that it was coming. It was like something came over me, that it's like Michael was almost talking to me, letting me know 'brother, it's time," Perdue said. "So it was a great day. It was a wonderful day."
The ashes of Michael Perdue are now in a white box in the care of the siblings. They say they will spread his ashes alongside the gravesite of his older brother in Michigan.