As classes let out in Searcy, Ark., on Tuesday, and students scattered across neighborhoods, a seventh-grader in the Riverview School District noticed something that stopped him in his tracks. He was taking a shortcut across campus, on the way to meet his mother at work, the district’s superintendent said in an interview.
The route took him near an overgrown patch of woods on the school grounds, a little-used area that doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic. And there, just visible through the brambles and underbrush, the young man saw it.
“You can’t hardly see inside,” said Todd Dewitt, a sergeant at the Searcy Police Department. “I guess the light must’ve hit it just right.”
They were human bones.
They hadn’t been buried, like a grave, Dewitt said. They were just out there, visible to a passerby, mere feet from the school’s administrative offices.
The middle-schooler, whom the district and the authorities did not identify, then told a trustworthy high school student about his disturbing discovery, Riverview Superintendent David Rutledge said. The older student informed the school resource officer — a law enforcement official stationed on campus — and local police were called.
It’s a puzzling case, Dewitt said, and a mystery that no one found the bones sooner.
The finding sent a shudder through the campus, which houses both the junior high and the high schools, and through the central Arkansas city, population roughly 24,000.
The district posted the news to Facebook, where it was widely shared. The bones, police said, appeared old — “It’s been there for years, I can say that much,” Dewitt said — but investigators won’t know their age or provenance until they get results back from the state crime lab. They weren’t even sure whether the skeleton belonged to a man or a woman — but they did say it was an adult.
Officials said they have no reason to believe the remains are in any way connected to the school, and it’s possible they’ve been there, undisturbed since the school bought the property in the early 2000s, Rutledge said.
“If there’s a connection between the school district and this individual, we are not aware of it,” he said of the deceased.
The police investigation is ongoing, Dewitt said, but because the area hasn’t seen any cases that match up, they’re looking into the possibility that the bones are connected to an out-of-state incident.
“We have no idea,” he said. “It’s all fresh and we’re following leads as we get them.”
Meanwhile, Rutledge said, the school district is prepared to accommodate students who may be traumatized. They have counselors on staff. School will go on — as everyone there tries to get back to normal.