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Remains of missing Buena Vista man found after nearly a year of searching

Authorities say they found the body of Chad Austin in March

BUENA VISTA, Va. – The body of a missing 30-year-old Buena Vista man last seen in May 2019 has been found, according to Virginia State Police.

Authorities found the remains of Chad Austin, in March, in the greater Panther Falls area, according to a news release distributed Monday.

"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.”

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), 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.

“We were hoping to find Chad alive no doubt but we did have concerns that we were going to find possible remains of Chad from the very beginning as well," Lt. Waylon Miller of the Buena Vista Police Department said.

Police said that in addition to finding Austin’s remains, forensic investigators collected property and evidence that is currently undergoing testing at the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.

Austin was reported missing on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Amherst County, his car found abandoned about 2 miles down the turnoff for Panther Falls Road, according to police.

He was last seen on May 27, 2019, Memorial Day, by campers in the Panther Falls area.

At that time, a search of the immediate area resulted in several keys and personal items belonging to him being found about a half mile from the abandoned car.

That ended up being where they eventually also found his remains.

“I want to say probably about half a mile, three quarters of a mile west of where the vehicle was in a remote area, it was not in the roadway or anywhere close to the roadway," Miller said.

Because his remains were discovered in Amherst County and not within the city limits of Buena Vista, Virginia State Police will assume the lead on the investigation.

“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 in a news release. “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.”

“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.

Those with information are encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Salem Field Office at 1-800-542-5959 or 540-375-9589, or by email at questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

10 News has covered this search extensively:


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