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On sixth anniversary of DeOrr Kunz’s disappearance, Sheriff says the search is far from over

DeOrr Kunz Jr.

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Watch our in-depth interview with Lemhi County Sheriff Steve Penner in the video player above.

IDAHO FALLS — Lemhi County Sheriff Steve Penner says DeOrr Kunz Jr. “deserves to be found” and the investigation for the missing child is far from over.

DeOrr vanished July 10, 2015, while visiting 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 suspects in January 2016 by former Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman but they have never been arrested or charged. The parents have claimed from the beginning that they do not know what happened to their son. Reinwand and Walton have also said they have no idea where the boy is. Walton died in June 2019.

Publicly the case has been relatively quiet over the past two years but Penner says investigators are working behind the scenes.

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“We have another search planned for this summer,” he tells EastIdahoNews.com. “Normally we have one pretty large one and then we’ll have some follow-up with smaller groups.”

Professional and volunteer crews on foot, horseback and ATVs have scoured the remote campground dozens of times over the years. Searches have been performed from the air using helicopters and drones.

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Lemhi County Sheriff Steve Penner at the Timber Creek Campground. | Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com

Three private investigators have conducted their own investigations into the case but no solid evidence on DeOrr’s whereabouts has been produced.

“I don’t know what happened. Was he abducted? Was he a victim of some kind of foul play…or was it some kind of a nature take and by that I mean he could have slipped out of there and we just failed to find him?” Penner explains. “I guess I could say it’s one of those three.”

Trina Clegg, DeOrr’s grandmother, says their family remains hopeful that DeOrr will be found. An old iPhone belonging to be Mitchell was recently unlocked and the family has enjoyed viewing photos of DeOrr with each other over the past few weeks.

“We’ve been sharing them back and forth. They’re just priceless because there are several pictures that we’d forgotten about,” Clegg says. “We will do everything we can until the day we all die to find him. We’ve lost two grandpas through all this (Walton and DeOrr Kunz Sr.) and we thought when grandpa’s get up to heaven, maybe we’ll get an answer. We still don’t have that answer.”

DeOrr would be celebrating his ninth birthday this coming December. In 2017, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) released an age-progressed photo of what he could have looked like at the time he was 4. The NCMEC does an age progression two years after a child has gone missing and then every five years, according to Penner.

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The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children released an age-progressed photo of what DeOrr Kunz could look like at the age of 4 in 2017. | NCMEC

The sheriff points to cases of people whose bodies are discovered in remote areas years or decades after they vanish. He’s hoping it won’t take that long to find DeOrr but he’s determined to keeping working until he does.

“We haven’t given up. He’s a little boy that went missing. He was lost and when someone’s lost, you look for them,” Penner says.

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