Despite an abundance of theories and intensive national media and social media interest, the whereabouts of the missing 3-year-old remain unknown.
DeOrr Kunz Jr. disappeared July 10 from a campsite in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. DeOrr’s family marked his third birthday Dec. 30 without him present.
The case got national attention across social media and in news reports. Experts and Internet sleuths alike have provided much speculation, but law enforcement, including Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office deputies and the FBI as well as private investigators, haven’t been able to unravel what happened to the boy.
Steve Penner, Lemhi County chief deputy, said Tuesday he could not comment on any potential new information in the investigation. He said there is plenty of land still to search and the case remains very active.
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We pounded (the search). But Mother Nature is unforgiving.
Steve Penner, Lemhi County chief deputy
Penner said investigators intend to resume searching the Timber Creek Campground area in the spring.
The case was featured Dec. 24 in the “Bring Them Home for Christmas” episode of “Nancy Grace” on HLN, and Grace previously talked about DeOrr’s disappearance on other shows in 2015. The case is the subject of a documentary being produced by an independent Colorado film crew.
In November, a Texas investigation firm took up the case after declining to investigate twice due to costs. Philip Klein, CEO of Klein Investigations and Consulting, said he will release a theory that investigators are pursuing Monday — be it kidnapping, parental abduction, a wild animal taking the child, homicide or any other possible motivation. Klein refused to elaborate.
“I’ll say we are happy with the direction of the case … and we feel this case is solvable; we’re going to get there,” Klein said.
Klein’s firm claims to have solved 109 of 112 missing person and parental kidnapping cases it has investigated. In 2014, the firm reunited a Texas girl who’d been missing for 12 years with her father.
Klein said DeOrr’s family has been cooperative but added that Isaac Reinwand, a family friend who joined the July camping trip, would not make a statement to his investigators.
“We are very disappointed Isaac Reinwand has hired legal counsel and will not give us a statement. Very disappointed,” Klein said.
Reinwand previously voluntarily submitted to a polygraph examination, as did all the members of the camping trip.
The Post Register contacted Reinwand, who refused to comment.
NOTHING NEW TO TALK ABOUT
DeOrr went missing after his parents went for a hike, leaving him in the care of his great-grandfather Robert Walton. After searching for the boy for about 45 minutes the parents called 911, sparking a rigorous search of the area involving multiple agencies, dogs, drones, sensor-equipped planes, boats, ATV patrols and foot searches.
No shred of evidence of the boy has been found.
Trina Clegg, DeOrr’s maternal grandmother, said the family has not spoken to news media recently because there is nothing new to report.
“It’s killing us all inside that we don’t have anything new right now,” Clegg said.
She said it has been hard to keep the family going with all the attention the case has gotten, some of it accusatory toward the family. But she said an outpouring of support from community members has negated some of the nasty comments on social media.
She said the holidays were difficult for DeOrr’s family. Spending Thanksgiving and Christmas without their child, and seeing his birthday come shortly after, was “heartbreaking.”
“The only thing that got me though is the community. People just mailing over Christmas cards … or I would go to talk to people and they would just walk up and hug me,” Clegg said.
Clegg said that support has carried over into fundraising efforts to aid in the investigation. Klein’s company has a fund set up for circumstances in which families cannot afford to pay for his investigators to look into missing persons cases.
People from around the area have donated items for a Jan. 16 raffle and auction to raise funds to pay Klein’s team.
Klein said his nine investigators on the case have turned over about 75 percent of the information they’ve collected to local law enforcement. He said the remaining 25 percent is useless information. Klein said his investigators have conducted around 80 interviews and put in about 500 man-hours on the case.
Klein’s Facebook page has been inundated with comments about DeOrr. Klein said he has employees who closely monitor the Facebook page in case a tip or clue can be found.
BURDENS, BLESSINGS OF SOCIAL MEDIA
When it comes to missing persons cases, social media can be both a help and a hindrance.
In December, Klein asked that Facebook accounts about DeOrr be shut down so the investigation wouldn’t be hindered. Multiple Facebook pages, several geared toward speculation on the case, remain open. The pages operate under names such as We Love You DeOrr Kunz Jr., Deorr Kunz Jr’s Voices and Miracles For Little Man. Many of the pages, including Klein’s, contain threads that have been derailed by trolls.
Even online fundraising pages to help pay for the investigation and campground search efforts haven’t been immune to ad hominem attacks.
“They’re going to say about us what they’re going to say,” Klein said. “That’s just their First Amendment right, but we would ask the public to take a breath before hitting that post button and read it back once or twice.”
Private investigator Frank Vilt, a retired U.S. marshal who previously worked with the family, said he backed out of the case after offering a reward for information leading to DeOrr. Vilt said the family disagreed with posting a reward.
Vilt said the lie detector tests administered to those at the campsite were inconclusive.
“The whole thing doesn’t make sense; I don’t think they’ll be able to solve this,” Vilt said.
Clegg said Klein has worked diligently on the case and she hopes the raffle will help keep investigators going.
Klein said he appreciated the hospitality Idahoans granted his investigators.
“All I want is the child to come home,” he said. “We’ll get the answers that public and the family needs.”
DeOrr Kunz Jr. timeline
July 9: DeOrr, his father, mother, great-grandfather and a family friend decide to take a trip to the Timber Creek Campground near Leadore. They arrive at the campground in the evening.
July 10: The family takes a mid-morning trip into Leadore to pick up supplies. A driver of a black Jeep Wrangler Rubicon looks at the boy while in Leadore and makes DeOrr’s mother, Jessica Mitchell, uncomfortable. At some point in the afternoon DeOrr Kunz Sr. and Mitchell go for a hike, leaving the then 2 1/2-year-old in the care of his great-grandfather, Robert Walton. Walton later tells investigators he thought the child went over the bank to meet with his parents. About 15 minutes later the parents make their way to a part of a creek where friend Isaac Reinwand was fishing for minnows. The parents go to grab DeOrr and show him the minnows, but cannot find him. Due to miscommunication Walton thought the child was with his parents. A search for the child begins and lasts about 45 minutes. Mitchell calls 911 at 2:28 p.m. Search crews arrive soon after the 911 call and begin looking for the boy
July 11: Searchers on foot, ATVs and horseback scour the campground and surrounding area. The creek near the campground is vigorously searched, as well as Stone Reservoir.
July 12: Hundreds of volunteers arrive to help with the search. Volunteer efforts are suspended due to the overwhelming number of people and lack of coordination, Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman has said. Search efforts continue for many days with the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office dive team looking through Stone Reservoir near the campground. Use of drones, dogs and planes expand the search into the surrounding woods. A set of cadaver dogs show interest in the reservoir but it was determined an unrelated woman’s cremains were dumped there. In mid-July search efforts are scaled back.
July 22: Social media posts about tips and information swirl around the case as investigators try to pin down clues.
July 30: The FBI begins assisting investigators.
July 31: DeOrr is entered into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons database.
Aug. 3: Several news media outlets pick up reports of a found toddler in Minnesota and assume it is DeOrr. The reports are determined to be false. Frank Vilt, a former U.S. marshal and private investigator, begins working with the family and sets up a tip hotline, which is later shut down.
Aug. 11: Vilt details some of his investigations into the child’s disappearance to news media and suggests abduction could be the cause. Law enforcement officials early on ruled out abduction in the case.
September: Several GoFundMe pages are set up to raise money to support the family of the missing boy and aid search efforts. A couple of Facebook pages are created in an effort to find DeOrr. Comments and tips flood in from across the U.S., Canada and as far away as the United Kingdom. Fliers and posters are distributed.
Sept. 11: Vilt offers a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the discovery of DeOrr’s whereabouts.
Sept. 13: A tip about a lost child who looks similar to DeOrr goes viral across the Internet. The child was reunited with his mother in Stanton, Calif.
Sept. 14: Vilt has the family re-enact the day DeOrr vanished.
October: The family parts ways with Vilt. Vilt said it was a disagreement over posting a large reward for finding the child. The family seeks help from a private investigation firm in Texas. The firm at first declines to take the case but reconsiders in late November. The FBI is unable to come to any conclusions from evidence, which included polygraph tests of everyone at the campsite, provided to them.
Oct. 14: A woman unrelated to DeOrr begins an effort to establish dozens of billboards across the state.
Oct. 23: Friends and family join searchers over the weekend for one last look near the campground, prior to winter weather arriving.
November: Klein Investigations and Consulting of Nederland, Texas, agrees to take on the case. Philip Klein, lead investigator, said payment for the man-hours spent investigating is coming out of a fund set up by his company for circumstances such as this where the family would not be able to afford the cost.
December: Klein requests that Facebook accounts about DeOrr be shut down so the investigation won’t be hindered. At least eight Facebook pages, several geared toward speculation on the case, remain open.
Dec. 30: Family members hold a candlelight vigil for DeOrr on his third birthday.
Jan. 16: A Dutch oven potluck and raffle auction is set, with proceeds going to Klein Investigations.