MEMPHIS - Dense woods where the remains of a Tennessee woman were discovered by two hunters had been searched by air and ground when she vanished three years ago but no signs of the nursing student were found, a sheriff said Tuesday.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on Monday confirmed that the skull that was found was that of Holly Bobo, who was 20 when she disappeared in 2011. Her brother told police he saw a man dressed in camouflage leading her into the woods and she hadn't been seen since.
Bobo's abduction gained national attention and the family received strong support from the town of about 2,400 people located about 110 miles east of Memphis. Hopes that Bobo would be found alive were dashed in March when Zachary Adams, whose family has property about 6 miles from where Bobo's remains were found, was charged with murder and kidnapping.
Another man, Jason Autry, faces the same charges. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
"We will never understand the actions or the motives of those who took Holly from us, but we continue to pray that someone will have the courage to step forward and shed more light on this senseless tragedy," said a statement from Bobo's family read at the news conference by family lawyer Steve Farese.
In the days following her abduction on April 13, 2011, from her home in Parsons, authorities followed cellphone signals during the hunt, Decatur County Sheriff Keith Byrd said at a news conference.
He said aircraft fitted with infrared sensors could not get a good look during flyovers because of thick tree foliage, and ground searchers didn't find evidence of Bobo's remains in the rural Decatur County area where they were eventually discovered Sunday.
"I would say that was probably an area for citizen's searches," Byrd said about the search on the ground.
Later, he added: "If there was any indication to believe we needed a law enforcement (ground) search in that area, I never heard it. I never heard that one took place in that area."
After Bobo disappeared, posters with her face on them and a reward offer were distributed throughout Tennessee and the South. TBI Director Mark Gwyn has said that the investigation has been the most exhaustive and expensive in the agency's history.
Two men looking for ginseng on Sunday discovered the skull just a few feet from a log road some 400 yards from a cellphone tower. Dental evidence confirmed it was Bobo's, officials said.
Byrd said he did not know how long the remains had been there. Forensic teams were investigating.
Byrd referred to the cellphone signals being followed by law enforcement as "pings."
"To my knowledge, no information besides the pings ever came in for that particular area," Byrd said. "Practically everything within a 20-, 25-mile radius was searched at one time or another."
Byrd and District Attorney Matt Stowe said more people could be arrested. Stowe said his office was preparing to seek a possible death penalty in the case. A decision is expected in coming weeks, after he consults with the Bobo family, he said.
The discovery of the remains makes prosecuting the case "much easier," Stowe said.
Bobo's family in the statement asked that her mother, Karen, father, Dana, and brother Clint be given privacy as they mourn.
Farese said the family was coping "minute to minute, hour by hour, day by day."
With Bobo's remains being found, the town's focus turns to the legal case, said Mary Beth Helms, who was friends with Bobo.
"I have some anger," Helms said. "I do not want them to get away with this. We're praying for something new now."