Officials had searched as far as Florida for leads, but hadn’t found any evidence for two decades
A scuba YouTuber who goes by the name Exploring with Nug has unearthed what police believe to be the bodies of a pair of teenagers who went missing more than 20 years ago, buried at the bottom of a river in Tennessee.
On 3 April, 2000, Erin Foster, 18, and Jeremy Bechtel, 17, went out for a drive in the small town of Sparta, Tennessee, and were never seen again, becoming a cold case that bedevilled local detectives for years.
Then, two decades on, there was a surprising break in the case. Scuba diver Jeremy Sides, who runs the Exploring with Nug channel, became interested in the case, and headed down to the area from Georgia to conduct search dives in the surrounding waterways.
The newly elected local sheriff, Steve Page, happened to be in church one day with the family of Erin Foster, and they caught wind that the vlogger, known for using scuba and other search techniques to investigate cold cases and historical sites, was looking into the case.
From there, Mr Page and Mr Sides began swapping messages on Facebook, and the sheriff mentioned to the scuba diver that he had discovered last year that investigators might not have been searching in the correct part of the county.
Eventually, after using a sonar-equipped raft to probe multiple local rivers, Mr Sides discovered a 1998 Pontiac Grand Am submerged in the Calfkiller River, with human remains and a licence plate matching the car the pair went missing in. Police are now testing the car for forensics, and have yet to officially confirm the identities of those found inside the wreck.
“I’m lost for words. I’m so glad I could find them,” Mr Sides says in his video account of the search, just after coming upon the car. “I’m so sad that that’s where they ended up. I can’t believe it’s been over 20 years they’ve been sitting there waiting for someone to find them.”
After discovering the car, the YouTuber calls the sheriff, who responds, “You know how big this is? …Brother, this is the case of a lifetime for me and you.”
The families of the two teenagers have been notified of the discovery, and police say it could take weeks of clearing out mud from the car and testing DNA and dental records before any final conclusions are drawn about who was inside the vehicle and what lead to their deaths.
Investigators haven’t ruled out foul play, though they believe it’s likely the pair lost control of the vehicle accidentally and went into the river.
“I prayed for this. I asked God to help me find these teens. To give closure to help this family finally be able to put this to rest and I think we’re going to be able to do that,” Sheriff Page told NewsChannel5 Nashville.
Dive teams are continuing to explore the site to uncover any further clues.