Remains found in Somerset Township last week likely belong to an individual who has been dead for more than a year – and possibly for several years, according to an Erie County forensic anthropologist who is assisting investigators.

Mercyhurst University Applied Forensic Sciences Department Chairman Dennis Dirkmaat said his team of 22 faculty members and graduate students spent part of a day at the wooded investigation scene and recovered most of the skeletal remains – including the skull of an adult.

They are now examining it at their Mercyhurst lab in an attempt to determine the likely age, gender and ancestry of the individual to help state police identify the person and determine how she or he died.

“We’re compiling a report of how long ago we think it happened and what we think happened that caused this individual’s death,” Dirkmaat said, noting that remains can contain clues to whether someone’s death was natural, self-inflicted or a homicide.

It may take several weeks to complete the review, he said.

Recovered items such as teeth might help state police determine the identity of the individual if they can match dental records for a person listed as missing in the area, Dirkmaat added.

State police have been investigating the case since last week in what has been described as a death investigation involving an adult individual.

Somerset County Chief Deputy Coroner Cullen Swank said his office is also awaiting a report from Dirkmaat’s team and additional information from state police before they can rule on a cause and manner of death.

Given the amount of time that has passed since the individual’s passing, their traditional method to make a ruling – an autopsy – isn’t an option, he added.

“We’re all in the same position right now,” Swank said, adding that the forensics work may take some time. 

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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