Columbia police and the Solid Waste Utility on Friday described the lengths volunteers took to scour the city landfill for clues of the 2006 disappearance of Megan Shultz.
Though police said they weren’t done searching for evidence, they discovered human remains Wednesday. The remains had items consistent with what police had expected to find with Shultz, Police Chief Geoff Jones said Wednesday.
The discovery came after a month of planning and more than a week of searching.
Though the crew searched for about nine days, Steven Sapp, spokesperson for the city of Columbia, said the city began planning the landfill search right after Keith Alan Comfort told police in August at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, that he had strangled Shultz.
Sapp said about a dozen people, including members of police department, the solid waste division and sewer utility, volunteered for the search and considered it their “personal mission” to bring closure for Shultz’s family.
Sapp said searchers wore protective gear, including boots and nonpuncture gloves while working.
“We ran into sharp objects and some generally unpleasant materials — one item of asbestos that we had to properly handle and address,” David Sorrell, assistant director of utilities, said in a press conference Wednesday. “But generally, the heat was probably the most challenging piece of the exploration.”
Sapp also said there’s a program in place for volunteers to talk to someone if they need it for their mental well-being because the city is cognizant that the volunteers could be seeing something they never expected.
The city began the search by narrowing down more than 100 acres of landfill to roughly four acres by looking at operating records to see where trash disposed of in 2006 may have ended up .
In an interview Friday morning with David Lile on KFRU, City Manager John Glascock said the city tracks where the trash ends up within landfill cells. A landfill cell is a designated area where land is prepared for trash disposal, according to the Metro Waste Authority.
“We had those kinds of records of those things, so we could narrow it down pretty tight, pretty quick,” Glascock said on KFRU.
Those records let police excavate those four acres by digging trenches to find materials dated to when Shultz went missing. They were looking for anything with dates on it — postmarks, newspapers, expiration dates on packages.
Glascock also said the materials the city was looking for were located in a “dry tomb,” which means water is kept out, making it easy to read dates.
After finding stuff dated around the time of Shultz’s disappearance, the crew tried to narrow down the search area further by finding how far the dated materials spread in each direction. While searching south of the initial materials, they found human remains.
“We were lucky — (the remains) weren’t that deep. If it would have been one hundred feet deep in that cell, there’s no way to get there, but it was four feet deep,” Glascock said on KFRU.
Glascock and Sapp both commended Sorrell for his role in the search efforts. Sorrell was unavailable Friday for further comment about the search process.
Glascock also praised the dedication of the staff involved.
“Everyone says it’s remarkable, but I never thought we couldn’t do it,” Glascock said.
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