Human remains discovered Friday afternoon near Horse Ridge about 21 miles east of Bend are thought to be those of Sara Gomez, the Bend woman who has been missing since Feb. 20.
“We believe the remains are Sara,” Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said Saturday. “We cannot be certain until we have the OSP crime lab conduct the forensic test.”
Hummel said it could take about two months for the official crime lab results, but he said law enforcement officials have reasons to believe the remains are those of Gomez. Specifically, he said the size and teeth appear to match.
“The remains we found had similar characteristics,” Hummel said.
A La Pine man was on a walk near Horse Ridge on Friday afternoon when he discovered the body wrapped inside a tarp under a tree.
Robert Biggs said he spotted the shiny black tarp a few feet off a dirt road parallel with U.S. Highway 20 at mile marker 21.
He tugged at the tarp and noticed a black and white comforter wrapped inside and tied shut.
The body-sized tarp felt heavy and smelled terrible, he said.
“I couldn’t budge it,” Biggs said. “The moment I tried, the smell overwhelmed the whole area. It just reeked.”
Biggs did not have a phone on him when he found the tarp at about 1:30 p.m. Friday. He contacted law enforcement at about 7:30 a.m. Saturday, and a Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office deputy responded to the scene at about 8 a.m., he said.
A drone, piloted by a Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue volunteer, was used to help document the scene, according to the sheriff’s office.
Gomez, 24, was reported missing Feb. 20 after failing to return home from work for several days. Authorities, including Hummel, believe she was killed by an ex-boyfriend, Bryan Penner.
Penner, 31, was arrested on suspicion of violating a restraining order she’d taken out against him. He hanged himself in the Deschutes County Jail March 11, casting the search for Gomez in doubt.
Penner’s cellphone placed him heading east out of Bend the night of his arrest, before the signal was lost. Organized search parties for Gomez have been staged in Alfalfa, east of Bend.
Gomez’s sister, Elizabeth Fennell, said law enforcement notified her Saturday that they found a woman’s body, but could not confirm it was her sister.
“I’m praying this is her so we can maybe get closure,” Fennell said.
Fennell’s fiance, Patrick Garrett, has led the unofficial search for Gomez. She said he left for a fishing trip in Alaska this weekend.
Fennell said the location of Friday’s discovery is strange, as she searched that area with Garrett and others and found nothing. She suspects someone helped Penner hide the body.
“I feel very confused today,” Fennell said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org