A 10-year-old Washington girl who vanished in June 2009 while walking home one night from a friend’s house has been found dead in a “remote” part of the state, PEOPLE confirms.
Speaking at a news conference on Thursday afternoon, Grays Harbor County Sheriff Rick Scott described the recovery of Lindsey Baum’s remains as a “devastating” development for her family — but one that nonetheless now lets investigators narrow in on the suspect or suspects responsible for her abduction and slaying.
“The prayers and hopes of the family were that we would some day find her alive and bring her home. Now, the reality is we need to find a homicide suspect,” Scott told reporters.
“We’ve brought Lindsey home. We’ve recovered her,” he said, to audible reaction from those in the room.
Lindsey was last seen alive on June 26, 2009. She and her mom and older brother had moved to rural McCleary two years earlier.
The night she disappeared, Lindsey went to a friend’s house for a possible sleepover — then headed back home alone after the other girl’s mom said no.
She wasn’t seen again.
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The case quickly inspired massive attention, including a 2009 cover story in PEOPLE, as well as significant search efforts. But all to no avail.
In the nearly nine years since Lindsey went missing, more than two dozen possible people of interest have been investigated, according to the Seattle Times.
Sheriff Scott on Thursday said one imminent step would be a forensic examination of the area where Lindsey was found dead. He did not specifically discuss any suspects.
He said Lindsey’s remains were “unknowingly” found in September by hunters in Eastern Washington, after which they were sent to an FBI crime lab for DNA analysis, which confirmed Lindsey’s identity in recent weeks.
The delay was due to the fact that the remains were randomly discovered and did not appear to be linked to an ongoing investigation, so they were not prioritized over other materials at the lab, Scott said.
He declined to identify the exact area where Lindsey was found — beyond noting that it was largely used for hunting, with no one living there — or further describe the condition of her remains. He said that the “vast majority” of questions people were going to have about the case would be unanswerable at this time due to the ongoing investigation.
Scott did not discuss a possible cause of death or motive. (Sheriff’s authorities were not immediately available to comment to PEOPLE when reached directly on Thursday.)
Of how Lindsey’s family reacted to her death, Scott said, “They were understandably devastated. They had prayed that we would find her alive and bring her home. That was not the outcome that the family wanted to hear.”
The family has asked for privacy as they grieve but gave their thanks for the public’s “continued support,” Scott said.
“I was sad that it was ending like this,” he said of his learning that Lindsey’s body had been found, “but I was glad that we were able to bring some element of closure to what had happened to her.”
Surrounded by officials from various law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Scott said investigators in the case so far would remain involved “until we bring the monster that’s responsible for this and hold them accountable.”
He again urged anyone with information about what happened to Lindsey to come forward, even if anonymously.
“There’s someone out there that knows who did this and how this happened and there’s people out there that have information that would be the nugget that we need to explode this investigation and culminate in an arrest,” he said. “We need those people to have the courage to come forward.”
Tips can be submitted to investigators by phone or online at 360-964-1799 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read PEOPLE’s Original Story on Lindsey’s Case, from November 2009:
When Melissa Baum moved to rural McCleary two years ago, the divorced mom thought she’d found the perfect safe place to raise Joshua, 13, and Lindsey, 10. Then one night, Lindsey walked with a friend to the pal’s house, hoping for a sleepover.
When the girl’s mother said no, Lindsey began the 10-block walk home alone. Fifty minutes after the time she was due back, Melissa phoned the town police, who launched a door-to-door search. The next day, the regional FBI office and the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s office joined in.
“We’ve investigated thousands of tips,” says Undersheriff Rick Scott. “To date we have no physical evidence speaking to any specific scenario.”
Undaunted, Melissa, 38, spends weekends leading volunteers through dense evergreen forests. Their intrepid searches have turned up Prohibition-era cellars and bunkers — but no trace of Lindsey.
“I know she’s alive,” says Melissa. “I feel it.”
Originally published in the Nov. 23, 2009, issue of PEOPLE.