Residents in the East Lake community of Chattanooga will see increased police activity in the coming days as local and federal investigators renew a 20-year-old cold case involving the 2000 murder of 10-year-old Joshua Lee Walden.
The Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, the Chattanooga Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have teamed together in a renewed investigation into the 20-year-old cold case of Joshua, who was found dead in a wooded area near the East Lake Duck Pond in December 2000, District Attorney General Neil Pinkston said Monday during a press conference at the Cold Case Unit facility on Bonny Oaks Drive.
Pinkston, who noted that Joshua is one of the office's youngest cold case victims, said that investigators have never stopped working on the case, now entering its 20th year, but they have recently renewed their efforts in the probe.
"There has been an almost 20-year murder investigation going on into his death, spearheaded by the Chattanooga Police Department," Pinkston said. "We have an increased, renewed effort in the investigation of this case and for the next several days, several weeks the FBI will be working alongside the D.A.'s office Cold Case Unit as well as the Chattanooga Police Department in hoping to seek the ends of justice in finally finding the answers in who killed Joshua Walden."
Chattanooga police who were active in the department 20 years ago have vivid memories of Joshua's death and the unanswered questions, Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy said Monday.
"[T]he loss of Joshua was not lost on the members of the Chattanooga Police Department," Roddy said. "Those members have continued to carry this around in their hearts for the last 20 years."
Roddy said that renewed investigative efforts by all agencies "speaks to the tenacity and the caring that those investigators have had all the way up to this date."
Joe Carrico, the FBI agent in charge in the Knoxville division, told media on Monday that the federal agency's goal was to find answers in Joshua's case and to muster all the investigative tools possible to track down his killer or killers.
"There's nothing more tragic than the loss of a child, and to lose a child in this manner is even that [much] more extreme," Carrico said. "We're happy to be able to bring the resources of our behavioral analysis unit from Quantico at the FBI Academy and also members of our Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team here to Chattanooga and Hamilton County to pursue any and all leads."
"So we ask the public, if you recall anything that happened on that fateful day back in December 2000, something that just comes back to your mind, please reach out to the Chattanooga Police Department, please let us know. You never know what tip may lead to the solving of this crime."
Pinkston said Joshua's case is one that the Cold Case Unit had on its radar since the beginning and investigators now have the opportunity work with the federal agency.
"When I convinced Mr. Mathis to head the cold case unit before it was started, this was one of the two cases that he said the unit would work on through time as time allowed, so it's always been at the forefront of everyone here's collective consciousness," Pinkston said.
Mike Mathis, Cold Case Unit supervisor, said investigative technology has advanced over the last 20 years and the department has resubmitted evidence from the police department's evidence storage that wasn't submitted in 2000.
Some evidence that couldn't be tested at the time also has been submitted for FBI analysis, said Mathis, who was an investigator on the case in 2000.
"We have some more going out soon," Mathis said.
There also have been changes in communications in the rise and reach of social media, Mathis noted.
"Social media didn't exist in 2000 when I responded to this call," Mathis said. "We use the media a lot and it's a very useful, helpful tool.
"We couldn't reach the community without social media and the media itself," he said.
Mathis said tips have already been coming in since last week's announcement of the renewed investigation and publicity through local media.
Authorities are hoping to generate leads with video of news coverage, revisits and other accounts from the time of Joshua's killing now posted on the Hamilton County District Attorney's Facebook page.
Meanwhile, the storyline has changed little since the earliest days of the investigation.
Joshua was last seen alive Dec. 8, 2000, near 16th Avenue in East Lake riding his red, 16-inch bicycle in the 4500 block of 14th Avenue near his home, according to newspaper archives and Mathis. Mathis said it wasn't uncommon for Joshua not to come home and to decide to stay with a friend, but not for longer. By Saturday morning, his family had decided to call police.
A large ground search by community members and law enforcement took place on that Sunday, eventually leading to the discovery of Joshua's body, Mathis said Monday.
In December 2000, Hamilton County Medical Examiner Dr. Frank King ruled that Joshua's official cause of death was "mechanical asphyxia-suffocation," according to newspaper archives.
In a Dec. 13, 2000, Times Free Press story, Mathis, then a Chattanooga police detective sergeant, described mechanical asphyxiation as an event that occurs when a person's airways are blocked and the person is unable to breathe. The airways can be blocked with a hand, a pillow or by someone sitting on the victim's chest, he said in 2000.
Joshua's then 17-year-old brother tried to describe the family's emotions in the days following the death.
"Everybody has been crying," said Joshua's 17-year-old brother, Dallas, in December 2000. "It's been a shock. We are coping with it as best we can. We have a lot of support. We'll be all right. Joshua is living in our hearts."
Children — Joshua's other brother Jonathan among them — were playing in the 3100 block of 16th Avenue when they discovered Joshua's body around 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 10, 2000, according to archives. The body was in a depression in the woods near 32nd Street and 16th Avenue and covered with leaves, police said at the time.
Joshua's body had been doused in muriatic acid, investigators said in the days following.
The red bicycle Joshua was last seen riding has never been found. Crews from Volunteer State Rescue Squad searched the pond at East Lake Park a few days later in an effort to locate the bike, according to archives, but found nothing.