The remains of a 10-year-old Arizona boy who slipped out of his bedroom window in 2016 and disappeared have been found in a desolate field a few miles away — as questions swirl about how and where he died.
Jesse Wilson, of Sundance, a community in Buckeye that is west of Phoenix, was reported missing on July 18, 2016, the Buckeye Police Department said at the time.
Massive searches failed to locate him, making the case one of the most publicized in state history.
But on March 8, a Buckeye municipal employee discovered what appeared to be partial human skeletal remains in an area near State Route Highway 85 and Broadway Road — about six miles from Jesse’s house — Buckeye police detective Tamela Skaggs announced at a news conference on Tuesday.
Authorities collected the remains and submitted them for forensic analysis, with Skaggs saying this week, “with great sadness,” that they were positively identified as Jesse.
She described the case as a “homicide investigation.”
Police have not named any suspects but are not ruling anyone out, they said.
“I wish we could say it’s closure, but it’s not, because we haven’t found the person responsible,” Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall told reporters. “But we do have a body and that brings us a little closer.”
“I’m extremely confident that this is going to get solved,” Hall said.
Authorities are still working to determine Jesse’s cause of death and figure out how his remains ended up miles from his home.
Hundreds of volunteers and members of law enforcement with cadaver dogs previously searched the area, which acted as “runoff for state 85 for irrigation flooding,” Hall said.
“We believe at that time that that area was underwater,” he said Tuesday.
“We walked that area,” he said. “And it made sense that the cadaver dogs wouldn’t hit in that area because the area was underwater.”
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Authorities notified Jesse’s mother, Crystal Wilson, that his remains had been found. She has been out of state, police said, according to Arizona Republic. (PEOPLE’s attempts to reach her were not immediately successful.)
Members of the police department were “devastated” at the news, Skaggs said.
She described him as a “bright, energetic and caring young man who was well-liked by his friends and teachers.”
“Naturally,” Hall said, “our community, the family, our police department and our law enforcement partners wanted to find him alive. It’s the worst possible outcome we could have imagined.”
The Case So Far
Jesse, who lived with his mother and two siblings, was last seen in his room on July 17, 2016, about 9:30 p.m., the Buckeye Police Department said at the time.
His mother reported him missing on July 18 when she called the police department’s non-emergency line, according to TV station KNXV.
An investigation determined that he left the house through his bedroom window, police said in a Facebook post in 2016.
Authorities said that Jesse’s mother was not a suspect while he was missing, though the quality of his care drew scrutiny. In April 2016, police had been notified after Jesse left the house through his window in the middle of the night, showing up at a neighbor’s house dressed for school, according to KNXV.
Neighbors had also said that Wilson’s children would knock on doors asking for food, the station reported.
In 2011, police investigated reports that the children were allegedly underfed and abused but found no evidence of that, according to KNXV.
At some point after he went missing, Jesse’s siblings were removed from Wilson’s home and placed in foster care, where they remain, Skaggs said. It is unclear what prompted their removal.