Skull might belong to missing boy

Dental records should show if itís from Thomas Kelly

By JOANNA COLLINS

Police believe a human skull found in an orchard Monday may belong to a missing Phoenix teen.

The skull was found in the Gore Creek drainage between Carpenter Hill and Camp Baker roads outside Phoenix ó the area where Thomas Kelly Jr. was last seen. Kelly has been missing since Jan. 26, 1999. He was 17 at the time.

"Iím just praying that itís not (him), but at the same time I have to be realistic," said his mother, Vicki Kelly, who lives on Coleman Creek Road in Phoenix.

According to Lt. Dewey Patten of the Jackson County Sheriffís Department, an expert will compare Kellyís dental records with the skull to make an identification.

The skull, missing the lower jawbone, was found at 1 p.m. Monday by Bear Creek Corp. orchard workers in the creek bed.

Deputies looked for more clues near Gore Creek Tuesday but couldnít fully search the area where the skull was found because of overgrown blackberry bushes. There are no immediate plans to continue the search.

Although the cause of death is not yet known, police do not believe foul play was involved.

Kelly was last seen by two men who said the teen was running by Gore Creek near Pioneer Road. The two said he claimed he was being chased and begged them for help but ran off before they could stop him.

Vicki Kelly, who believes her son was using drugs, does not rule out the possibility that he slipped or developed hypothermia in the winter weather.

Since her sonís disappearance, Kelly has worked with a national organization and started creating a television program to shed light on the issue of missing children. She is also working on legislation to better train police officers in missing-children searches. Even if the skull is identified as her sonís, she said she will to continue to be active with the issue of missing children.

Results of the dental exam are expected today.

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