Texas Rangers Launch Homicide Probe Into Death of 16-Year-Old Runaway Who Vanished in 2000

DNA analysis has enabled Texas authorities to identify the remains of Sylvia Nicole Smith from fragments discovered in Midland County in Aug. 2013

texas highway patrol
Texas highway patrol. Photo: SAM CRAFT/AFP via Getty

Authorities in Texas are investigating the homicide of a 16-year-old runaway whose remains were discovered in Aug. 2013 – a full 22 years after she disappeared on Feb. 14, 2000.

According to a report from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) posted on the Internet Monday, a collection of partial remains discovered near South County Road in Midland County, Texas in Aug. 2013 have now been positively identified as belonging to Sylvia Nicole Smith.

The teenager was last seen by her mother on Valentine's Day in 2000, after which her family filed a runaway report with the Midland Police Department on Feb. 18, 2000.

According to the DPS release, Smith's remains were first discovered by survey workers operating "near an oilfield wellsite." The Texas Rangers, DPS Aircraft, and the Midland County Sheriff's Office then launched an extensive search of the area to collect "all evidence."

Sylvia Nicole Smith
The dusty crossroads where Smith's remains were discovered. Google Maps

"The remains were sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, where an anthropology report was completed, and DNA was extracted," the DPS added in its statement Monday. "The results revealed the victim was a female between the ages of 14-21 who was likely the victim of a homicide."

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The agency added that the DNA results were later put into Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which sadly failed to produce a match.

In 2020, while working with the Midland County District Attorney's office, the Rangers then looked for more ways to obtain a positive identification, and the sample was sent to DNA Labs International and Parabon Nanolabs.

Criminologist studying DNA
Criminologist studying DNA. Getty

It was through this that the authorities were ultimately able to find out some basic details of the unidentified person, the DPS said in its statement.

"The results revealed the victim was of African-American descent, and identified eye color, hair color and skin tone," the agency revealed, Monday. "A genetic genealogist who examined the DNA assisted with a match which led to a distant relative."

After conducting interviews with potential relatives in order to gather more information on the family, authorities were led to the victim's mother.

On June 9, the University of North Texas verified that the remains of the person found in 2013 was Smith after Texas Rangers collected DNA samples from her family for analysis.

The Rangers are now asking anyone with information on Smith's disappearance or homicide to come forward. Texas Crime Stoppers is also offering a $3,000 reward.

The Texas Department of Public Safety did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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