EastIdahoNews

Idaho toddler vanished 5 years ago today. Here’s where the investigation stands

By Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews | Posted - Jul. 10, 2020 at 11:10 a.m.



IDAHO FALLS — Five years ago today DeOrr Kunz Jr. disappeared while on a camping trip in Lemhi County, Idaho.

The 2-year-old from Idaho Falls vanished July 10, 2015, while visiting Timber Creek Campground with his parents, Jessica Mitchell and Vernal DeOrr Kunz. DeOrr’s great-grandfather, Robert Walton, and Isaac Reinwand, a friend of Walton’s, were also on the trip.

There has been no sign of DeOrr since that day, and nobody has been charged in connection to his disappearance. Mitchell and Kunz were named suspects in January 2016 by former Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman but they have never been arrested or charged. The parents have claimed from the beginning that they do not know what happened to their son. Reinwand and Walton have also said they have no idea where the boy is. Walton died in June 2019.

Publicly the case has been relatively quiet over the past year. After months of testing at the FBI office in Quantico, Virginia, investigators announced a bone found at the campsite last summer was from an animal and not tied to DeOrr Kunz.

Despite the lack of developments, Lemhi County Sheriff Steve Penner says the case is still open and active.

“We did a K9 deployment on June 4 in the area of Timber Creek Campground,” Penner tells EastIdahoNews.com. “We are waiting for environmental conditions to change and there will be some follow-up as a result of that.”

Photo: Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews

Professional and volunteer crews on foot, horseback and ATVs have scoured the remote campground dozens of times over the years. Searches have been performed from the air using helicopters and drones.

Three private investigators have done conducted their own investigations into the case but no solid evidence on DeOrr’s whereabouts have been produced.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been five years. It still feels fairly fresh to me. I’m not sure why that is. It doesn’t seem that long,” Penner says.

DeOrr would be celebrating his 8th birthday this coming December. In 2017, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) released an age-progressed photo of what he could have looked like at the time he was 4. The NCMEC does an age progression two years after a child has gone missing and then every five years, according to Penner.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released an age-progressed photo of what DeOrr Kunz could look like at the age of 4 in 2017. (Photo: NCMEC)

Tanisha O’Neal Tompkins, Vernal DeOrr Kunz’s sister, says having her nephew missing for five years is “unreal” and her heart breaks every day.

“It’s a terrible feeling in my heart and soul not knowing anything more than I did when I got the life-shattering phone call he was missing,” Tompkins says. “He’s been missing two times longer than I’ve known him and that just tears me up from the inside out. It’s a paralyzingly feeling not knowing anything. It destroys your mind trying to figure it all out. None of it makes sense. None of it is fair.”

Jessica Mitchell and Vernal DeOrr Kunz | (Photo: EastIdahoNews, File)

Jessica Mitchell and her mother, Trina Bates Clegg, say they are still holding out hope that DeOrr is alive.

“We’re so grateful for the continued dedication of law enforcement and our PI David Marshburn and his team as they continue their efforts to find answers in regards to baby DeOrr,” the two said in a joint statement. “One day we will have the answers as we still pray for this daily.”

Penner says he and other investigators will not stop looking for DeOrr until he is found and the case continues. There are no public vigils or events planned for the missing boy but family members say they will honor him in their own way.

“One thing I know 100% – he does exist,” Tompkins says. “He is destined to do great things in this world and all I can hope for is that he’s alive and I will see him again one day. We love baby DeOrr with all that we are and truly do appreciate every single person that has searched and may still be searching for my nephew. We appreciate law enforcement for never, ever giving up! We will never give up until sweet baby DeOrr is found. We love you, buddy.”

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