Human remains found last month near the Dry Fork Creek in Phelps County have been identified as Johnathan Shay, a teenager with autism who has been missing since last summer, according to the Phelps County Sheriff’s Department.

Human remains found last month near the Dry Fork Creek in Phelps County have been identified as Johnathan Shay, a teenager with autism who has been missing since last summer, according to the Phelps County Sheriff’s Department.
The sheriff’s office confirmed in a news release issued Thursday afternoon that forensics testing determined the remains located Feb. 21 scattered in a field near the creek, south of St. James, belonged to Shay.
According to the sheriff’s department, late Wednesday, “after an extensive examination by a forensic anthropologist and dentist, the remains were officially identified as that of Johnathan Shay.
“The examination will continue in an attempt to determine the cause and manner of death,” the news release stated.
The remains were transported to the Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office by the Phelps County coroner’s office around Feb. 23. After Sheriff Rick Lisenbe held a press conference Feb. 22 announcing that human remains had been located, he said it could take anywhere from one week up to six months to identify them.
Shay’s family was formally notified of the forensics team’s findings Thursday morning.
Shay's aunt, Amy Studdard, posted in the Facebook group, Help Bring Johnathan Shay Back Home, that Shay's mother, Melissa Perkins, was visited by Sgt. George Arnold, with the sheriff's department regarding the development.
Studdard said Perkins learned the remains “have been positively matched as" belonging to the missing boy.
“We just miss him more than anything and love him very much,” said Studdard. “Not a day will pass that we won't miss his sweet smile, giggle and stories and warm hugs. We do have some closure but we’re devastated at the outcome.”
Shay, who was 13 when he went missing, wandered away with a younger cousin, Xavier Baylor, on July 9, 2015, from a relative’s property in the 10000 block of County Road 3470, south of St. James. Baylor was found July 10, 2015, by Missouri State Highway Patrol searchers near the creek.
Several extensive searches were conducted in a large area by many law enforcement agencies, fire departments, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responders and the public.
The area the remains were found had been searched many times, according to Lisenbe. The sheriff said he believes heavy flooding in late December pushed the remains out into the field.
Lisenbe told several media outlets during the Feb. 22 press conference that the remains were found in the early evening of Feb. 21 while an individual was showing property along the creek. Law enforcement officials returned Feb. 22 and found more remains.
During the press conference, he said he could not confirm that the remains were definitely those of Shay. He said at that time that no foul play was suspected.
The remains were found about 1,700 feet from his home, downstream from the residence and on the opposite side of the creek where Baylor was discovered.
Among the remains were pieces of clothing and a tennis shoe. Perkins told law enforcement officers when shown a picture of the shoe that she believed it belonged to Shay.
“We want to thank the community, law enforcement agencies, search and rescue professionals and Emergency Medical Services for their support of the family and the sheriff’s department during this trying period,” said Lisenbe.
He added, “Please continue to pray, support and respect the family during this grieving period.”
Justice In Name Of, an organization that led multiple searches for Shay last fall, announced last month that it would hold a special event for Shay Saturday, April 23.
The group stated that the date had been reserved “prior to the information the sheriff's department released” during the Feb. 22 press conference. Justice In Name Of plans to announce more details about the event later.
The group’s Facebook post about the event states, “So you all know, Saturday, April 23, we are having a day for Johnathan Shay, and we extend a special invitation to everyone to come out and help support the family and most important, Johnathan's mom, at this time.”