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New Jersey helps ID human remains found in Arizona boy's rock collection

In 2002, a mother contacted the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office after finding a human jaw bone in her son’s rock collection. The identity of that jaw bone remained a mystery for decades — until the office received some help from out of state.

The bone already appeared to be several decades old and made identification especially difficult for the office.

“We had reached our limit as to what we could do without more sophisticated help. And sophisticated help comes at a cost. And it's not something that most government agencies have the money to spend on cold cases without the help of organizations or agencies like the college,” said Kristin Greene with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

Help came from Ramapo College in New Jersey. Students in a bootcamp program of the school’s Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center helped solve the mystery. The jawbone appeared to be linked to Everett Leland Yager, a Marine who disappeared during a training flight in California in 1951. It is unknown where the Arizona boy found the bone, according to a statement from the center.

A DNA sample was then taken from his daughter, confirming the identity.

“So this case was exceptionally unusual. Typically when we're working on a case, we're trying to link up unidentified remains with a known missing person. And so with this case, that's not what happened," said Cairenn Binder, assistant director of the Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center.

The Sheriff’s Office said Yager’s family is thankful to everyone who helped solve the mystery and bring final closure more than 70 years after his disappearance.

Ignacio Ventura is a reporter for KJZZ. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and a minor in news media and society.