The Beaufort County Coroner’s Office has identified skeletal remains found on Hilton Head Island in 2016 but cannot release a name until family members have been contacted in Mexico, Coroner David Ott said.
The remains were found on Dec. 24, 2016, off Spanish Wells Road, Ott said. An orthopedic surgeon came across the skull while clearing trees on his property, according to Maj. Bob Bromage from the Sheriff’s Office. The remains are believed to have been a man who was reported missing in 2015. The FBI got involved to help locate a family member to provide DNA and to confirm the identity of the remains. Now the FBI is working tofind that family member again to deliver the news, he said.
The Coroner’s Office does not release the identity of those who have passed away until the family has been notified. Once the family has been told, the Coroner’s Office would be “more than happy” to facilitate transportation for the remains to be sent to Mexico, Ott said, but it is ultimately the family’s decision.
The case was brought up during an episode of “Lowcountry Law: On Air,” a 30-minute segment where law enforcement officials discuss public safety. In the second half of the episode, Bromage and Ott discussed skeletal remains found earlier this month on St. Helena Island.
In that case, deputies were called to Dulamo Road on Jan. 5 after three squirrel hunters and their dog came across what they believed to be human remains, according to previous reporting from The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. The bones were later confirmed to be human. Bromage told a reporter at the time that investigators are considering the possibility the remains may belong to Michael Hatfield, a 67-year-old father who went missing in the area in 2017. A cause of death and confirmation that the bones belong to Hatfield, Bromage said in the episode, have not been determined yet.
The bones were sent to a forensic pathologist at the Charleston County Coroner’s Office, Ott said in the episode. After the pathologist has completed a “detailed report,” including the age and sex of the remains, they will be brought back to Beaufort County, where the Sheriff’s Office’s Forensic Services will extract DNA from the remains and compare it to DNA they already have to confirm if these remains belong to Hatfield, he said.
“And finding skeletal remains in Beaufort County, in this area, that’s not unusual,” Bromage said.
For the coroner’s office, the process of identifying skeletal remains, Ott said, is “painstaking.”
“Basically, we just start digging through phone records, through pictures and you reexamine, turn every leaf over,” Ott said. “Not always do we come up with a next of kin, but we ... know it’s our job to get it done, and nobody wants to leave human remains unknown.”