Last week, the family of 2-year-old DeOrr Kunz Jr. brought decorated pumpkins to the site where he disappeared almost four months ago.
On July 10, DeOrr vanished while on a camping trip with his family at the Timber Creek Campground near Leadore in Lemhi County. When he disappeared, DeOrr was wearing a camouflage jacket, blue pajama bottoms and cowboy boots.
Despite numerous searches of the area surrounding the campsite, no trace of the Idaho Falls boy has been found.
The boy’s parents, Jessica Mitchell and DeOrr Kunz Sr., and other family members have spent many long weekends searching the Timber Creek area looking for their lost loved one. Though a search last Sunday did not turn up anything new, the family is not giving up hope.
“We will go up every weekend if we have to,” grandmother Trina Bates Clegg said.
Clegg said billboards with DeOrr’s photo are being erected across the state. DeOrr’s family also plans to travel to regional truck stops with photos of him in hopes that somebody has seen the blond-haired little boy. A film crew recently interviewed the family for an upcoming documentary about the case.
For almost four months now, the question of what happened to DeOrr has baffled investigators. Some of the theories include DeOrr simply wandering off the campsite, being taken by a wild animal or being abducted by a stranger. The Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office won’t even comment on whether they consider DeOrr’s parents to be suspects in the case.
How could a 2-year-old vanish without a trace, despite such large-scale search efforts to find him?
Gone Baby Gone
DeOrr’s father thought the boy’s great-grandfather was watching him. The great-grandfather thought the boy’s dad was watching him.
It was during this 7- to 10-minute time period when nobody was watching him that DeOrr apparently disappeared.
Once they realized the 2-year-old was missing, Clegg said the family frantically searched the surrounding area for about an hour before dialing 911.
Deputies arrived on the scene and interviewed the family. Believing the boy could have wandered from the campsite, a massive search effort was launched.
Steve Penner, chief deputy of the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office, said the search radius was just over three miles from the Timber Creek Campground.
“With kids that age, 75 percent are found within 4/10th of a mile,” Penner said. “At 2.8 miles, 95 percent of all missing children are found.”
Penner also said the terrain around Timber Creek Campground was difficult for search and rescue teams to navigate.
“The mountains are very steep. You have very thick vegetation and swampy areas to deal with,” he said.
One location of interest to investigators was Stone Reservoir, a body of water located next to Timber Creek Campground. Authorities feared DeOrr might have accidentally fallen in and drowned.
Divers searched the reservoir on four different occasions, including during the first day of the search. Investigators also flew over a helicopter to search the clear water and used sonar technology to scan the reservoir.
The search for the child has involved divers, dogs, horseback riders, aircraft, ATVs, emergency medical technicians, law enforcement officers and volunteers. At one time, more than 150 people were involved with the search.
But despite these efforts, no sign of DeOrr has been found.
DeOrr loved coloring, and he loved playing with his Hot Wheels.
And according to Clegg, he was a big mama’s boy.
“You could sit him in his room, and he would be content as long as his mommy was nearby,” Clegg said. “Even at my house, if his mom had to go to the store, it was very tough for him.”
Clegg said the disappearance has been heart-wrenching for her entire family, and criticisms on social media websites regarding the family’s conduct the day of the disappearance and during the investigation afterward have made it worse.
“Show me a book, like one of those Dummies books, on how we are supposed to handle something like this,” Clegg said.
In an interview last week, Clegg said the reason it took an hour to call 911 was because the entire family was feverishly searching the area for the missing boy. She also criticized people who have made up lies that DeOrr’s great-grandfather, who other family members thought was watching the boy, was unfit to supervise young children.
Some online posters have claimed that DeOrr was never at the campsite. But the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office said they are 99 percent sure the boy was there on July 10.
The most vicious accusations, according to Clegg, have come from those accusing DeOrr’s parents of being responsible for his disappearance.
Clegg said the family has had to issue a cease-and-desist order to some online posters in attempt to stop them from posting comments about the case.
Frank Vilt, a private investigator who offered his services to the Kunz family last August, said some of these online accusations have actually disrupted the ongoing search for DeOrr.
“Whenever one of these accusations comes out, we have to investigate it, and that takes time away from real leads,” Vilt said.
Neither of DeOrr’s parents would respond to the Journal’s request for an interview regarding the case. However, both Mitchell and Kunz Sr. took lie detector tests a few weeks after their boy disappeared. The Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office decided not to release or comment on the results of those tests.
The Sheriff’s Office also refused last week to comment to the Journal on whether DeOrr’s parents were being considered as suspects in the case.
Was he abducted?
The Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office said it is refusing to comment on any leads or possible suspects because the search for DeOrr is an active investigation.
But Clegg said the family strongly believes DeOrr was abducted from the campsite, and the theory that a wild animal took him just doesn’t hold up.
“The cadaver dogs did not find any trail of blood, and there was no evidence he was physically attacked in any way,” Clegg said. “Someone had to pick him up and take him away.”
In an interview last week, Clegg was critical of the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office for failing to secure the campsite after search efforts began.
For example, somebody entered the campsite and dumped a recently deceased family member’s ashes into the reservoir while search efforts were underway.
“The cadaver dogs spent two weeks after that focused on the reservoir,” Clegg said. “(Authorities) allowed people to come here and dump ashes. How can an area get contaminated like that and you still think things got done right up there?”
In response, Penner admitted, “It was a contamination, and it didn’t help anything.”
Clegg also said that there were multiple ways for a possible abductor to escape from the campsite, particularly if the suspect was on a 4-wheeler or off-road vehicle.
“There were at least a dozen ways to get out of the area,” she said.
Though the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office has been tight-lipped about the case, Penner did say there was no evidence the boy was abducted when police first responded. This is why no Amber Alert was ever issued.
“It didn’t fit the criteria for an Amber Alert,” Penner said. “There needs to be something that indicated he was abducted, and there hasn’t been anything to indicate that may have happened.”
The Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office said it is still looking at any and all possible leads.
Even Frank Vilt, who specializes in missing children cases, believes an abduction is entirely plausible.
“I hope he’s still out there alive, and I hope people are taking care of him,” Vilt said.
Now retired and living in Montpelier, Vilt formerly served with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Marshals Service. In his career, he said he has recovered 19 missing children and returned them to their parents. Vilt offered his services to the Kunz family in August, setting up a national hotline for them and investigating leads in DeOrr’s disappearance.
He even found a possible suspect.
The black Jeep Rubicon
On the morning of the disappearance, Kunz’s parents recall seeing a suspicious man at a convenience store in Leodore. This man, who reportedly drove a newer model black Jeep Rubicon, was described as being in his 50s with long white hair that was curly at the bottom.
“He was fixated on the boy,” Vilt said. “This man made the family nervous.”
A week later, a woman told Vilt she saw a man matching this description at an ice cream store in Swan Valley, approximately 150 miles east of Leodore.
The woman said she was creeped out by this man because he kept eyeing her four children, who range in age between 2 and 9.
Since setting up the national hotline, Vilt has received numerous tips from across the region regarding this mysterious man in the black Rubicon. Some of the leads have turned out to be false, but others appear to be promising. However, Vilt is still waiting for a lead to come in with the Rubicon’s license plate number.
Though Vilt said he isn’t working with Kunz’s family anymore, he still follows up on the leads he receives through the hotline regarding the case. He said the belief that little DeOrr is still alive is what keeps the family and investigators going.
But with a lack of evidence and solid leads, Vilt admits this case is odd.
“This is one of the weirdest cases I’ve ever worked on, and that’s in a span of 40 years in law enforcement,” Vilt said.
As for the Kunz family, they are also holding out hope that little DeOrr is somewhere out there, waiting to be found.
“Jessica taught him his name,” Clegg said. “If anybody thinks they see him, ask him if his name is DeOrr. He will tell you yes.”