Police: Bones found in Buckeye are those of missing boy

Posted: Updated:
As the search for Jesse continued, Crystal Wilson, his adoptive mom, made a tearful appeal for her son to come home. As the search for Jesse continued, Crystal Wilson, his adoptive mom, made a tearful appeal for her son to come home.
Jesse Wilson's bones were found about 10 minutes from his Buckeye home. (Source: Google maps) Jesse Wilson's bones were found about 10 minutes from his Buckeye home. (Source: Google maps)
BUCKEYE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

The Buckeye Police Department confirmed Tuesday morning that the bones found in a Buckeye farm field are those of a 10-year-old boy who vanished nearly two years ago.

"It is with great sadness that we are here today to announce that we have identified the remains as those of Jesse Wilson. Like so many of you across our community, we are devastated by this news," reads a Facebook post by the Buckeye Police Department.

"While this is not the outcome for which any of us had hoped, we want to stress that this is not the end of our investigation. The Buckeye Police Department, along with our state and federal partners, will continue to pursue this investigation until its conclusion. We believe this case will be resolved as Jesse deserves nothing less."

[RAW VIDEO: Buckeye police hold news conference after bones identified as those of Jesse Wilson]

"The worst possible outcome that we could have experienced, we did experience," Buckeye Police Chief Larry Hall said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. "It's the worst outcome that we could have possibly imagined."

A Buckeye Police Department spokeswoman confirmed that this is a homicide investigation and said the Department been in contact with Crystal Wilson, Jesse's adoptive mom, who is now out of state.

In answer to a question about whether detectives consider Wilson a suspect, Detective Tamela Skaggs said the Department's contact with her will continue.

"From the beginning of this investigation, we haven't ruled out anybody as a suspect," Skaggs said.

At the same time, BPD has not named Wilson as a suspect.

Although we now know for sure that Jesse is dead, there still seem to be more questions than answers about what happened to him. Investigators still do not know exactly how, when or where Jesse died. The manner of Jesse's death, once determined, will inform the investigation.

"We are confident that we will solve this case," Skaggs said, explaining that the discovery of Jesse's remains opens up new avenues for investigators. "This provides us additional information that we didn't have before so we will continue to work this investigation like we have been."

"I am extremely confident that this is going to get solved," Hall agreed, saying he is "very comfortable with the direction the investigation is going."

Along those lines, investigators are still asking for tips from the public. The phone number and email set up early on in the investigation are still active. 

The FBI, which has been involved since the beginning, was on hand at Tuesday's news conference to explain its continuing role in the case. 

Supervisory Special Agent Lance Leising stated unequivocally that BPD has been and will continue to be the lead agency and that the FBI is assisting where it can, including providing personnel and analytical resources.

"We stand by Buckeye Police Department in seeking justice for Jesse," Leising said. "We'll continue to be there for them."

The back story

Jesse, whose 12th birthday was Friday, March 16, disappeared in July 2016. His mother told police she learned he was missing the morning of July 18, but she had not seen him since the night before.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Search underway for 10-year-old Buckeye boy]

According to police, Wilson called the department’s non-emergency line at about 1 a.m. on Monday, July 18. She told police her son walked away from their home like he had done in the past.

Jesse’s family believed he slipped out of the house through his bedroom window that night. They say he had sneaked out before but had never stayed away for an extended period of time.

News of the little boy’s disappearance spawned a massive community search with neighbors and authorities setting out on foot. Police deployed K-9s and drones looked for the boy from the air. The FBI was involved, as well.

As the search for Jesse continued, Wilson made a tearful appeal for her son to come home.

[READ MORE: Mother makes tearful appeal for son to come home]

"Your sister and your brother love you so much," she said days after reporting him missing. "I love you so much."

Nearly a month into the search, answers were still scarce.

Detectives went back to Wilson’s home, leaving with bags and envelopes usually used to collect evidence. 

[SPECIAL SECTION: Search for Jesse Wilson]

"This is a child that disappeared in the middle of the night,” Hall said at the time. “So, there's a lot of different scenarios that we have to play out. And one of the scenarios that we play out is the one we have to play out today, that he might have been dumped in the desert."

It now looks like that scenario might be a real possibility although police have not released any specific details about their investigation, including how Jesse's remains wound up in that field.

As the investigation continued, it also was learned that Wilson had adopted Jesse, his twin sister and their older brother. State child safety workers took Jesse’s sibling out of Wilson’s home when Jesse went missing. 

Wilson did not show up for an October 2016 court hearing regarding the children. The dependency hearing was initiated by The Arizona Department of Child Safety in a first move to terminate Wilson’s parental rights to Jesse, if found, and his two siblings.

Hall said after that hearing that his investigators had not talked with Wilson since her initial interview and their follow-up early in the investigation. He also confirmed that she has not reached out to anyone in the Buckeye Police Department for updates on the case or to offer any additional information.

Wilson’s court hearing came after it was learned that officers had come into contact with Jesse in March, about four months before he disappeared, and then again in April.

In the first incident, Jesse and his siblings had been wandering outside a Walgreens by themselves for a couple of hours. 

Wilson told officers that she had gone to the kids’ school to pick them up but they had gotten on the bus when they were not supposed to.

In the second instance, a neighbor told police Jesse was standing on a street corner and had asked them for food.

Jesse was returned to Wilson both times.

The Buckeye Police Department followed up on numerous tips, evening setting up a special phone number and email for tips about Jesse’s whereabouts.
Nothing ever turned up. Until now.

Police said they received a call the morning of Thursday, March 8 from somebody who saw the bones near Broadway Road and State Route 85. That’s a drive of about 10 minutes from Jesse’s home in the area of 239th Avenue and Twilight Trail.

[RELATED: Bones discovered in Buckeye farm field are human]

[MAP: Where the bones were found in relation to Jesse's home]

Investigators quickly determined that the bones are human, but it took longer to determine the if they were those of an adult or a child and even more time to positively identify them. 

[RELATED: Experts: Skull may be key to identifying human remains found in Buckeye]

Hall said searchers had been in the area where Jesse's remains were eventually found.

"That area is a runoff for State Route 85 for irrigation, flooding," Hall explained. "We believe, at that time, that that area was under water. We walked that area with hundreds of civilians .... We did it with law enforcement. We did it with cadaver dogs. It made sense that the cadaver dogs wouldn't hit in that area because the area was under water."

At this point, it's not clear how long Jesse's remains had been in the Buckeye field or how they came to be there.

"There is the weather that we have to consider, landscape, animal activity -- all those things that come into play with that specific desert area," Skaggs explained.

"This is a community's worst nightmare," Hall said. "Our detectives are going to continue to push forward and we will have closure."

Meanwhile, Jesse's former classmates and teachers are trying to process the news.

Unfortunately, they're not able to immediately grieve together since Jesse's charter school, formerly Bradley Academy suddenly closed in late January due to financial issues. All teachers, staff, and students were forced to find other schools. 

Jason Daugherty, who was Jesse's long-term substitute teacher in second grade is heartbroken. He spent countless hours searching for Jesse, passing out missing posters, and decorating Jesse's desk with hopes he'd come back to class alive.

"To think that someone would murder this little boy is devastating," said Daugherty who described Jesse as a caring and helpful young boy.

"In shock, heartbroken, wondering how to talk about it because I sub every day," added Daugherty who anticipates kids will be asking lots of questions tomorrow. 

Jesse's biological mother

Last week, while awaiting the lab results, Arizona's Family reporter Carissa Planalp spoke to a woman claiming to be Jesse's biological mother

Carrissa Stuart calls her son is a "hero" because his disappearance will expose a system that failed him.

"This is a child that they didn’t protect," Stuart said as she explained she won’t stop until there’s justice for Jesse.

"That’s what they want, but we’re not going to forget about him," says Stuart, explaining that she was holding on to the hope that Jesse would be found alive.

[READ MORE: Woman claiming to be biological mom of missing Buckeye boy holds on to hope]

While this is not the outcome for which any of us had hoped, we want to stress that this is not the end of our investigation. The Buckeye Police Department, along with our state and federal partners, will continue to pursue this investigation until its conclusion. We believe this case will be resolved as Jesse deserves nothing less.

Full statement from the Buckeye Police Department

"In the early morning hours of July 18, 2016, 10-year-old Jesse Wilson disappeared from his family home in the Sundance neighborhood of Buckeye. Jesse was a bright, energetic, and caring young man who was well-liked by his friends and teachers.

"From the moment he disappeared through today, the Buckeye community has joined together in solidarity to help bring Jesse home by dedicating countless hours volunteering, searching, and praying. We in law enforcement have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for Jesse and are eternally grateful for the continued assistance.

"Approximately two weeks ago, on March 8, 2018, a Buckeye municipal employee discovered what appeared to be partial human skeletal remains in the area of State Route Highway 85 and Broadway Road. He immediately reported this finding to law enforcement. A subsequent search of the area by law enforcement uncovered additional remains. These remains were collected and submitted for forensic analysis in the hopes of establishing a positive identification.

"It is with great sadness that we are here today to announce that we have identified the remains as those of Jesse Wilson. Like so many of you across our community, we are devastated by this news.

"While this is not the outcome for which any of us had hoped, we want to stress that this is not the end of our investigation. The Buckeye Police Department, along with our state and federal partners, will continue to pursue this investigation until its conclusion. We believe this case will be resolved as Jesse deserves nothing less."

Arizona's missing children

Jesse's case is one of a number of missing children cases that have haunted Arizona. While we finally know what happened to him -- if not how and by whom -- that's not the situation in many instances.

[SLIDESHOW: Missing children cases that rocked Arizona]

The case of Mikelle Biggs, the Mesa girl who vanished in 1999, made headlines last week when a dollar bill surfaces with a handwritten message, purportedly from the girl. She was 11. Today she would be just over 30.

[READ MORE: Message on dollar bill claims to be written by long-missing Mikelle Biggs


Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.