Human remains identified - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Human remains identified

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PENDLETON, Ore.-- The U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office have confirmed that the human remains found by hikers on the Umatilla National Forest in July of 2011 are those of a young man who went missing in 1981.

"Family members were notified that DNA tests performed by the Oregon State Medical Examiner's forensic anthropologist confirmed the remains found near Deduct Pond are those of 21 year old Keith Zunke," said Dave Thompson, law enforcement officer for the Umatilla National Forest.

Zunke went missing on October 26, 1981 during a fieldtrip from Stonecreek Lodge, a group home for the developmentally disabled. Stonecreek Lodge, which has since closed, was based in Walla Walla.  The discovery of human remains last year began a thorough investigation to ensure the area was not a Native American burial site.

"We were concerned it may have been a historic Native American burial site and followed Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act protocol to preserve and protect the site and findings," said Thompson. Thompson investigated past cases of missing persons but found contacting individuals with direct knowledge of the search and rescue efforts difficult because of the time that had elapsed since the case was opened.

The U.S. Department of Justice National Missing Persons database revealed no matches to the remains found in that area. Officer Thompson later discovered that Zunke had been declared legally dead in 1983 and removed from the database.

The investigation was conducted by Forest Service law enforcement in cooperation with the Oregon State Police, the Umatilla County Sheriff's Office, the Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office and the Oregon State Medical Examiner Office. Because the remains were incomplete, a cause of death cannot be determined. When asked about his tenacity in helping solve a three decade old case Officer Thompson replied, "I am grateful we could finally bring closure to the family of Keith Zunke."

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