EAST BREMERTON — Human remains found Thursday near Steele Creek Mobile Home Park appear to be those of Jenise Wright, the 6-year-old missing since Sunday.
An investigation into her “suspicioius death” continues, said a news release from the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.
“We suspect she did not go off by herself and fall into the bushes and die,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Scott Wilson said at a news conference in the afternoon.
Investigators are narrowing their search for a suspect in the disappearance, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office is awaiting confirmation by the Kitsap County Coroner’s Office, which will determine cause and manner of death, likely Friday.
The discovery of the body probably will end the extensive search that has brought in special volunteers and FBI search dogs.
Frank Montoya Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office, said Jenise was the person recovered.
It was an FBI dog trained to find trace material that found the body.
“We could not have done it without those resources,” said Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lt. Earl Smith.
In all, 375 people participated in the search and investigation, and 200 leads were followed. Investigators continued to check leads and encouraged residents to report anything they think might be helpful.
Wilson declined to say exactly where the body was found but said it was in the “immediate proximity” of the mobile home park, which is just off Old Military Road near Highway 303.
“Thicker than thick,” said Port Orchard resident John Holt, of Washington Explorer Search and Rescue, Kitsap Unit, describing the wooded areas volunteers had been searching. He spent four days on the search and said blackberry bushes and devil’s club grow unchecked in the wooded area. “It’s everywhere.”
He was in the woods between Steele Creek and Highway 303, behind the mobile home park where Jenise lived, when he received word to stop the search at 11:30 a.m. Thursday. The Sheriff’s Office announced the discovery of the body at 12:15 p.m.
He was consoled by the idea that the discovery could bring closure.
“At least it is better than if they found nothing at all,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Coincidently, the woods where the girl’s body was found Thursday is across Highway 303 from another heavily wooded area where 26 years ago 12-year-old Cassie Holden’s body was found. Jonathan Gentry, a stranger to Cassie, was convicted of her murder and was sentenced to death. Before the state’s moratorium on capital punishment, Gentry was the state’s oldest death row inmate.
Christina and Steve Harvey, who live nearby, drove around the neighborhood and put up posters with Jenise’s photo as searchers combed the nearby woods. Despite no official word on the identification of the body, the couple conceded Thursday they had no other choice but to give up.
“I think we’re done putting posters out,” Christina Harvey said. There was some relief in the developments Thursday.
“I’m glad it’s over,” she said. “It’s very, very sad.”
Wilson said Jenise’s parents were being connected to grief counselors.
The 6-year-old, known throughout the neighborhood for being independent and friendly, was last seen as she went to bed Saturday night.
Jenise’s family said they didn’t become worried and call for help until Sunday night because the child had left the home on previous occasions and wandered around the neighborhood, authorities have said. They felt it was relatively safe because the mobile home park is fenced.
Ronald Newton, who lives nearby and grew up in the area, went to the mobile home park and spoke to a deputy Thursday afternoon, reporting a bit of information in hope that it could help. He had just heard that a body was found, and couldn’t help think of his own 8-year-old daughter. She often heads down to the mobile home park to play with friends.
“It shook me,” Newton said. “This could be our daughter. This could be anybody’s daughter.”
He said he has changed his daughter’s curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. And although he always keeps an eye on her when she is outside, now he is extra vigilant, making sure she is never out of sight.
“She sees it as me being mean,” Newton said of the more strict rules. “But you can never be too sure.”
Jenise’s parents took FBI lie-detector tests Monday night, and the results have not been disclosed. Their home also was searched twice by different sets of authorities, Wilson said Wednesday.
Wilson said Jenise’s parents have been extremely cooperative.
Investigators could be seen Thursday afternoon coming and going from the family’s residence. The Sheriff’s Office kept a checkpoint at the neighborhood’s only entrance and exit at the request of the property owners, as residents were overwhelmed by the amount of attention from investigators and media.
A vigil is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Crossroads Neighborhood Church in Bremerton. Organizers ask that people bring ice and candles.
Carrie Jones, of Port Orchard, and Amanda Hurst, of Seabeck, are organizing the event. They do not know the Wright family. The two attend Christian Worship Center in Seabeck and have been working with other local churches in hopes that a large group will turn out to support the family with prayer.
“We want to let the family know we love them and support them, and regardless of the outcome we will be there for them,” Jones said. “That’s what the church and the love of God is.”
The two have been in contact with one of Jenise’s older sisters, who gave her blessing to the event. It’s not known whether Jenise’s family members will attend.
Those with information about Jenise’s disappearance can call 911 or the FBI’s tip line, 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).
For information on the vigil, go to www.facebook.com/FindJeniseWright.