SEATTLE – Nearly 27 years after a Yakima teen left his family to hitchhike across the country, DNA tests have identified bones found in Florida as belonging to the young man.
Tests determined the bones are those of Rocky Berry, a 16-year-old with a degenerative muscular condition who left home in 1978.
“I just said, ‘Praise God,’ ” said Berry’s younger sister, Brenda Quiroz, a social worker in Yakima. She learned of the match this month from a sheriff’s detective in Gulf County, Fla. “I’m just glad we don’t have to wait and wonder any longer.”
In May 1978, Berry had been living in a boys home in Tacoma, sentenced there for stealing mail. It was during a visit home that he decided to hitchhike to California instead of going back.
His family knew he made it to California within days, but lost touch with him after he headed to Florida, where relatives lived.
Berry suffered from Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a disease that degenerates muscles and ligaments. As a child, he’d undergone several surgeries on his feet and ankles.
Quiroz two years ago thought she recognized a sketch and description of a dead man included in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer special report on missing and unidentified people.
It wasn’t her older brother, but help from a King County forensic anthropologist led Quiroz to the Web site for the National Center for Missing Adults. There she found details about an unsolved case of bones discovered in rural Florida decades earlier.
Quiroz called Gulf County sheriffs.
The case had been posted on the site only about a week before her call, Lt. Ricky Tolbert said Friday.
The bones were found in 1979 in woods off a roadside near Wewawitchka in the Florida Panhandle. Tests determined they were the remains of a male, aged 18 to 25, who’d had several surgeries on his feet and ankles. He was the victim of homicide.
The case was randomly reopened in 2002 – three months before Quiroz inquired about it.
While authorities investigate the homicide, Berry’s remains will stay in Florida.