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Forensics provide first description of unidentified Almeda Fire victim

Investigators knew early on that there were three sets of remains discovered after the Almeda Fire, but only one of those was still unidentified months later.

Posted: Jun 8, 2021 5:22 PM
Updated: Jun 9, 2021 4:39 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — Forensic investigation has at last provided a rough description of the last, as-yet unidentified victim of the Almeda Fire. The Jackson County Sheriff's Office shared those results in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

The Almeda Fire began on September 8, and the fire's extraordinarily rapid spread and the extent of evacuations meant that — in the first few days immediately after the fire — investigators had to search through dozens of unconfirmed missing persons reports while also sifting through the wreckage, looking for human remains.

But within two weeks, investigators had narrowed the scope down to three deaths. Two victims were identified as 55-year-old Donald Schmidt and 92-year-old Violet Lobdell. The third, which was actually the first body found, remained unidentified. Sheriff Nathan Sickler said at the time that the body was discovered about a mile away from the fire's point of origin, along the Bear Creek Greenway.

JCSO said that it has been working with the Oregon State Police Medical Examiner Division and Ashland Police in the intervening months to identify the last victim.

According to the information released on Tuesday, the remains of an unidentified black male were found at the 8.9 mile-marker of the Greenway between Ashland and Talent. He is believed to have been an adult, roughly 5-foot 8-inches to 5-foot 11-inches tall, with black hair and brown eyes.

A pair of eyeglass frames and a multi-tool were found near the remains.

The OSP Medical Examiner is still attempting to use DNA for a positive identification, working with a company called Parabon Nanolabs to process potential matches. They were also able to use DNA to produce composite images of the victim [above] to aid with potential identification.

Ashland Police is still heading the criminal homicide investigation that began with the body's discovery — part of the overall criminal investigation into the Almeda Fire.

JCSO said that it is actively running down missing person leads, and helping the state Medical Examiner when needed. The University of North Texas Center for Human Identification will process DNA comparisons of missing persons.

Anyone with more information on the victim can contact the OSP Medical Examiner’s office at (971) 673-8200. For the criminal homicide investigation call Ashland Police at (541) 488-2211, and for missing persons fitting the description call JCSO at (541) 774-6800.

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