DeOrr Kunz vanished 4 years ago today. His grandmother says it’s a day that will ‘haunt the rest of our lives.’
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IDAHO FALLS — Four years ago today DeOrr Kunz Jr. disappeared while on a camping trip in Lemhi County.
The Idaho Falls two-year-old vanished July 10, 2015, at the Timber Creek Campground with his parents, Jessica Mitchell and Vernal DeOrr Kunz. DeOrr’s great-grandfather, Robert Walton, and Isaac Reinwand, a friend of Walton’s, were also on the trip.
There has been no sign of DeOrr since that day, and nobody has been charged in connection to his disappearance. Mitchell and Kunz were named as suspects in January 2016 by former Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman but they have never been arrested.
While no major developments have occurred in the case over the past year, the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office closed part of the Timber Creek Campground June 28 to July 1 for a search. Sheriff Steve Penner declined to comment about what crews did at the site but said investigators will follow-up in the area “as environmental conditions change.”
Trina Bates Clegg, DeOrr’s grandmother and Mitchell’s mother, agreed to speak with EastIdahoNews.com about the anniversary of her grandson’s disappearance and where the case stands today.
Here is a lightly edited transcript of the interview, which you can watch in the video player above:
NATE EATON, EASTIDAHONEWS.COM: Can you believe it’s been four years ago this week that baby DeOrr disappeared?
TRINA BATES CLEGG, DEORR’S GRANDMOTHER: No. We go back to so many things. It’s like a timeline. You start thinking, ‘Ok. Today’s the day we were cleaning out the camper,’ and I just remember him being so excited helping clean out the camper and jumping on top of the cushions and just little things like that before they did go. How excited he was to be part of that and go camping and live some what I remember from my childhood of going up to Leadore and camping with my grandma and grandpa. We found pictures from 1983 of that campground and we were all up there and that was my last time up there. It’s such a beautiful place and now it’s such a haunted place to me. I still find such comfort going up there because it is so beautiful.
EATON: It seems like a lot has happened over the last year but yet not a lot has happened. Your father (Robert Walton) passed away and we’re sorry to hear about his death. How are you doing since he died?
CLEGG: Rough. Really rough. There’s just been so much over the past three weeks. We had (private investigator) David Marshburn come in and do some new searches and then my father passed away. I feel like I haven’t had a chance to grieve for my father because there was so much going on so it’s really still very difficult.
I wanted the answers so much before Dennis Kunz died in January and then I said, No, we’ll get the answers before my dad dies. When Marshburn came in and gave us some new information, I thought we had it. It doesn’t mean we don’t but I thought for sure we would know something and then my dad passed away. I had someone close to me say, ‘Does it scare you that you may never find the answers?’ That was a really big reality that as a grandparent, we’ve lost the two great-grandparents and that was a little rough thinking I may never find the answers.
EATON: I’m sure people have asked if your father had anything to say about DeOrr before he passed.
CLEGG: No. He just kept telling Jessica that he was very sorry. Sorry that he took his eyes off that baby and he just kept telling Jessica that he was so sorry.
EATON: You mentioned David Marshburn. He is a private investigator from North Carolina who came to Leadore a month or two ago with his cadaver dogs. He went public and said that his dogs hit on a spot at the campground. The sheriff’s office hasn’t said what that hit was. It kind of gave a lot of people hope that there might finally be closure. Is that where you went when he told you this news?
CLEGG: Absolutely. And I’m still not giving up that hope because I know that there’s more to come. I still expect to see baby DeOrr as that same two and a half-year-old little boy. It brought a lot of hope and it still does bring a lot of hope because it’s another person out there fighting for baby DeOrr. Not necessarily fighting for anybody in the family or anything like that, but someone’s that out there.
He promises me every day, ‘Trina, I’m not done. We’re not done.’ Just to have that again. And I know that Lemhi County and Bonneville County and Missing and Exploited Children – they’re all out there for the same thing. But when get someone comes in and they are so gung ho and positive and David’s come here with a lot of his own money. He said he didn’t expect me to give me a dime. I offered to help feed him and let him stay in my home but as a PI and trying to stay neutral, he can’t do that. He said, ‘I don’t expect you to do anything for me. You are the family member of a missing child and I don’t expect that.’ David and I have become very close. I talk to him on a very regular basis and I just feel like he brings a lot of hope to the case.”
EATON: A few weekends ago the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office did work at the campground and they have not announced anything significant that was found. That’s not to say there wasn’t anything – there might be processing time – but basically, there’s not a lot of new information. Have they told you anything? Are you still wondering like the rest of us?
CLEGG: Yes. Absolutely we’re still wondering. We’re still waiting for Lemhi County to do their job and Penner and I talk quite a bit. He just has said, ‘Trina, I need you to remember that I need you to be strong and I need you to continue to be patient.’ I wait for the answers to come from him of what did you find, is it anything, is it related, etc. That’s where I have to remember to get my answers from is from him. He’s the lead on it. I still lean on David, I still lean on Bonneville County. If I go away for the weekend, I tell them where I’m going to be so they all know where I’m at. I want to make sure I can be there to support Jessica or Vernal or anyone when and if there is news that breaks.
EATON: Has your thought about what happened to DeOrr changed over the past year or four years?
CLEGG: Honestly I still have hope that he’s still alive but everyone keeps saying that at this point, he’s probably not alive. I still want that two and a half-year-old boy brought back to us. I can’t lose hope but I’m losing hope he’s still alive.
EATON: Every year when we’ve done interviews, you’ve said you just want to know what happened. If it was your daughter, it was her boyfriend, whoever – you just want to know.
CLEGG: I want closure so baby for baby DeOrr. If he isn’t with us anymore, I would like him properly laid to rest. I would like to know not necessarily what happened, but I just want the closure of it.
If we have him we get closure but there’s another chapter of this. I’m not ready for that chapter because this little boy didn’t do anything to anybody. We loved his smile and his laugh brought so much joy to us. There’s nothing this little boy could have done to deserve anything that could have happened to him.
If it does come out that somebody has to be prosecuted, the whole thought of having to sit in a courtroom and listen to what happened step by step is way more than, I think, we’ve been through in four years.
EATON: We did a story with you at the Eastern Idaho State Fair where your window was shattered. You had on the back of your SUV, ‘One Hope, One Dream’ with a picture of DeOrr and somebody shattered it. Have the trolls, the haters, calmed down or is it stirred up every time something new comes up?
CLEGG: It’s always there. My husband gives me a heads up of what’s starting and what’s coming up. He can just see when things are starting to get bad. I still get nasty little Facebook messages.
EATON: What do you want to say to those people? Because you know they’re watching right now and they’ll probably type a comment below?
CLEGG: All I want to say is what I have said for so long. You can’t judge. You can’t do anything and if you say something bad and you find out it has nothing to do with our family or my daughter or Vernal or me or even Isaac, you can’t say anything.
I’ve judged every one of them. I have pointed fingers at everyone. Everyone inside that circle and everyone outside that circle. I’ve pointed fingers at everyone in the Leadore area just thinking, ‘Do you have my grandson?’ But it doesn’t many me a better person for having those feelings or pointing the fingers. I’d love to point the fingers but it doesn’t, in the end, make me a good person. I have to eat my words if I say it was you and it wasn’t you. I have to eat my words at the end. I’m not ready to say anything. I just feel like if I listen to Penner and I follow that, I just have to wait and be patient.
EATON: How’s Jessica?
CLEGG: Since David came into the case and David has approached her, Jessica has found a voice. She talks to David and she communicates well with him and she has really, really been more open to listening to him and walking through things. She’s doing as good as can be expected. I know with the death of my dad and this anniversary and stuff, I know a lot of things are building up but she’s doing better right now than I think she’s done in a while.
EATON: Do you guys talk with Vernal anymore?
CLEGG: I don’t talk to him much myself. If I need to, I get a hold of his sister Tanisha. I do communicate with her and I do communicate with her aunt. We still try to keep in communication.
EATON: How about Isaac? Have you talked with him?
CLEGG: I actually took David to Isaac’s house. Isaac talked to me. He always has and I just wanted him to know that my dad was sick and then wanted to introduce him to David.
EATON: Are there any misconception or rumors or anything you’ve seen that you want to clear up?
CLEGG: There’s just always drama. I know when Penner was trying to go up and do the intensive search that there was so much drama going on. When I called to talk to him, you could just feel the tension because he was trying to get things set up to go up to Leadore, get the permitting done, but there was so much drama being caused that he was having to take care of the drama rather than focus on getting up there. That’s so hard for me because I want to call him every day, every hour, and ask what’s going on but that doesn’t do anything for him because he knows that I want answers so bad.
I hate to say it but it’s really not a priority for the public to know first. It’s for the sheriff to know and then the family to know and then from there, the rest of everyone else to find out. There’s no first priority on anyone else except the sheriff and the family and then, from there, we’ll find out.
EATON: Why do you think there’s such a fascination with this? There’s national media, online chats, I get asked about it at least every other day – There really is an intense fascination on this story.
CLEGG: I know it started on Facebook. We have so many connections with Facebook. I have family that lives way out of state. I created some really, really great friends – one of them in Montana and she did some really great things for me. It’s just those people who truly believe there will be an answer and they love baby DeOrr.
He had that face and he touched so many people in the beginning just because they could relate. They had a kid that age. His beautiful eyes, his laugh on some of the videos, and he just captured so many people.
I’ve had a couple of people ask about whether we’re going to do a memorial or anything. Not after last year and all the social media drama and threats that came with it. All we did was walk the river and held signs for him. There were people that said the nastiest, filthiest things like we have no support anymore and we’re doing this memorial and we should up in the campground.
Well, I should be working and paying my bills. Do I want to be up in Leadore? Absolutely but I can’t today so this is what I’m doing in honor of my grandson. Because of those things, we’re keeping it very private this year. We’re not going to walk, we’re not going to put ourselves out there to be beaten on and bashed anymore.
It’s not like it’s a celebration day. It’s a mourning day. You wake up and you can just feel it crush your heart. Every minute of this week you just start thinking about what we were doing today four years ago. It hurts you and it’s just like one of the worst days of your entire life. That phone call, the drive – there’s no part of it that you can sit and think of anything pleasant on that day. Everything has turned just 100 percent horrifying about that day. July 10th will just be a day that will haunt the rest of our lives.