Remains found July 21 on a Yakima River island near Wapato – a discovery that led some to wonder if they belonged to any of the Native women who have gone missing in the area – are from a man, the Yakima County coroner said.

Jim Curtice is working to identify the man, who he estimates was around age 30. He has said the body was badly decomposed, mostly skeletal, and there was no telling how long it was in the area where it was found, or how it got there.

“We have a pretty good idea of who it is. We can’t release that. We’re just waiting to get enough” dental records, Curtice said. “The (Yakima County) Sheriff’s Office is in the process of doing that. If this doesn’t pan out, it’s probably going to be a DNA thing.”

DNA samples have been sent to Washington State Patrol labs, Curtice said. But he strongly hopes dental records will suffice.

A man discovered the body on an island in the river about a half-mile west of the Donald-Wapato Bridge, the sheriff’s office initially reported. There was no evidence of how the person may have died, deputies said at the time.

Until Tuesday, Curtice had not released information on the gender. “Because we have so many missing people, I don’t want to send out any false hopes to anyone,” he has said.


Along with seeking more dental records — X-rays are key, he noted — Curtice may check into private labs if the State Patrol lab backlog for DNA testing is long. The process could take several weeks or several months through the state.

“It just depends on the material they got and their backlog, and how fast their process goes,” he said. “Being a missing person identification thing might put it up front.”

The issue of people who have gone missing in the Yakima Valley over decades, particularly Native women, has received increased international attention in the past few years. Indigenous women throughout and beyond the United States have suffered physical and sexual violence at disproportionate rates for decades.

No one knows exactly how many Native women and girls have gone missing on or around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Nation reservation, and many cases of missing and murdered women, and women and men who died under mysterious circumstances, are unsolved.

“People are starting to recognize there’s a big problem here,” Curtice said.