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Lead criminal investigator in DeOrr Kunz case gives update on investigation


LEADORE – It’s been nearly a year since DeOrr Kunz, Jr. disappeared while on a camping trip in Lemhi County.

The then two-year-old was at Timber Creek Campground with his mother, Jessica Mitchell, father, Vernal DeOrr Kunz, Sr., Isaac Reinwand (a family friend) and Robert Walton (Mitchell’s grandfather).

DeOrr vanished from the campground July 10. His parents say they left the child with Walton as they went to explore and Walton thought the boy had gone with this parents.

Multiple searches have occurred over the past year and in January, Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman named Mitchell and Kunz as suspects in their son’s disappearance. No one has been arrested and detectives say they are actively continuing to investigate the case.

Lemhi County Sheriff Chief Deputy Steve Penner, the lead investigator in the case, spoke with reporter Nate Eaton about where the case stands today and what happens next.

Lemhi County Sheriff Chief Deputy Steve Penner

Nate Eaton, reporter: It’s been one year since DeOrr vanished. What’s new with the investigation?

Chief Deputy Steve Penner, Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office: There’s very little that’s new and what is, I can’t share with you at this time. In May we did have a good search (of the campground) and I think there are some areas where we can be pretty certain where DeOrr is not. Some of the information that we gleaned from that search will drive the investigation forward and give us some direction as to where we’re going to go.

Eaton: Will there be further searches this summer?

Penner: There will be. It may be closer to fall but that’s kind of in the planning phase right now.

Eaton: A year ago did you ever expect that one year later this case would still be unsolved?

Penner: In this line of work you try not to have expectations. You just keep working at it and hopefully you can bring it to a conclusion but I did not think we’d be here.

Eaton: You probably know this case better than anyone.

Penner: I would say so. There’s also a detective in Bonneville that knows it quite well.

Eaton: When do you think there will be some resolution?

Penner: I don’t know at this point. We’ll just keep working.

Eaton: Do you think it will be solved?

Penner: (pause) We’ll just keep working at it and hopefully we can bring it to a closure.

Eaton: How many hours have you spent on this investigation over the past year?

Penner: You know, I haven’t calculated everything up but just as an example on our last search in May, there was over 1,100 manhours of just searching.

Eaton: So many people have become fascinated with this case.

Penner: There’s a lot of turbulence surrounding it.

Eaton: And it’s not just in Idaho but outside of the state as well. Have you ever seen anything like this?

Penner: No. That part of it is pretty new to me.

Eaton: I know you’ve issued several statements about social media. Does that type of activity hurt, hinder or matter to the investigation?

Penner: Sometimes it creates a fair amount of debris that you have to sort through and figure out. If there are tips and things like that, you have to run down those types of thing.

Eaton: The sheriff announced in January that Vernal DeOrr Kunz, Sr. and Jessica Mitchell were suspects. Has their status changed since then?

Penner: I don’t want to go there.

Eaton: How about Isaac Reinwand or Robert Walton?

Penner: There were four people there. We have been working really hard for a year on the searches, interviews, investigations and running down leads. We haven’t been able to clear any of those people that were in the campground with him when he went missing.

Eaton: Are you certain that little DeOrr was up there?

Penner: There’s a lot of speculation and there’s a lot of different theories out there concerning that. Being there so early on and being part of the investigation, I believe that he was there. I don’t have any hard evidence to at this point to suggest that he wasn’t.

Eaton: There are a lot of people watching and reading this who are disheartened that it’s been a year since he disappeared. What’s your message to the average person following this case that just wants this little boy found?

Penner: We all want the same thing. We all want some type of closure for it and we’re gonna keep working. We’re gonna keep pursuing the truth and hopefully, eventually, we’ll be able to resolve it.

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