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Skeletal remains discovered in Amherst County have been confirmed as those of Chad Austin, the Buena Vista man last seen alive almost a full year ago in the Panther Falls area. Since there is no ruling yet on the manner or cause of death, police are currently following normal procedure in such cases by conducting their probe as a murder investigation.

NEWS RELEASE: Buena Vista, Va. – The Buena Vista Police Department’s investigation regarding the May 2019 disappearance of local resident, Chad H. Austin, 30, has recently led investigators back to the greater Panther Falls area, where the human remains of Austin were recovered in March of this year.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), various Search and Rescue canine teams, Buena Vista Police Department, Virginia State Police, and Amherst County Sheriff’s Office contributed to the search and recovery operation. In addition to the skeletal remains, forensic investigators collected property and evidence that is currently undergoing testing at the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.

Mr. Austin had been reported missing after his silver 2006 Hyundai Tiburon was found around 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Amherst County. The car was abandoned about two miles down the turnoff for Panther Falls Road. His beloved, mixed breed dog, Gunner, was found unharmed and locked inside the car. Investigators were able to confirm Mr. Austin was last seen on May 27, 2019, which was Memorial Day, by campers in the Panther Falls area, east of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A search of the immediate area resulted in several keys and personal items belonging to Mr. Austin being found about ½ mile from the abandoned car.

Because Mr. Austin’s remains were discovered in Amherst County and not within the city limits of Buena Vista, the Virginia State Police will assume the lead on the investigation. Investigators with the Buena Vista Police Department and Virginia State Police have been meeting regularly and will continue to work together pursuing new information, along with the assistance of the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office and Rockbridge County Sheriff’s Office. The Amherst County Commonwealth’s Attorney and Buena Vista Police Department will continue to provide resources and assistance.

“From the outset, the investigators assigned to this case recognized the distinct possibility that Chad would not be found alive,” said Virginia State Police Special Agent K.A. Zirkle. “Because of that, this case has been handled as a homicide investigation from the very beginning. That means that while we have been diligently searching for Chad with the hopes of finding him safe and well, investigators with the Buena Vista Police Department and state police have been collecting and documenting evidence and information that would explain how he died, and who could be responsible for Chad’s death. Make no mistake, much headway has been made in the last year. As unfortunate as this development is, finding Chad’s remains allows us to now focus exclusively on the circumstances leading to his death.”

“The Austin family has been relentless in their search for Chad,” said Buena Vista Police Chief Richard Hartman. “Sadly, now they are grieving the loss of a son and brother. The Austins are longtime members of this community and they deserve our respect. And they deserve privacy. Most of all, they deserve answers. We intend to find those answers as we continue to pursue this investigation in partnership with state police.”

“We are confident that there are persons in the community with relevant information that could help bring this case to a logical conclusion. We want to assure local residents that the multi-agency investigative team actively pursuing this case will continue to conduct additional interviews and forensic examinations. A number of people have already come forward – and we are grateful for their trust – but those who have been reluctant are still encouraged to call the Virginia State Police,” said Zirkle.

Those with information are encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Salem Field Office at 1-800-542-5959 or 540-375-9589, or by email at questions@vsp.virginia.gov.