It is a tragic moment for a family when their outing concludes in disaster when a woman calls emergency services to inform that her 2-year-old son, DeOrr Kunz Jr is missing from the Timber Creek Campground ten miles west of Leadore, Idaho.
When children go missing, families spend months, years, and even decades trying to discover what happened to their lost loved ones. But getting a conclusion and some sort of resolution is never simple, especially when there is insufficient evidence.
And one of the most unfortunate and strange disappearances is DeOrr Kunz Jr who has now been missing for seven years.
In the years since repeated efforts of deceit have applied the parents as suspects by police and their former private investigator. However, minimal evidence has been found, and neither parent has admitted to the crime. As time passes, the family continues to distance themselves from the community they once considered so highly, leaving everyone questioning — where is DeOrr Kunz Jr.?
What happened to Baby DeOrr Kunz Jr.?
It is a mystery that has perplexed investigators and left family and friends sorrowful.
Two-year-old Deorr Kunz Jr., from Idaho Falls, disappeared on July 10, 2015, while touring Timber Creek Campground, 10 miles from Leadore (east of Challis), Idaho, with his parents, Jessica Mitchell and Vernal DeOrr Kunz Sr.
DeOrr’s great-grandfather (Grandfather of Jessica), Robert Walton, and Isaac Reinwand, a friend of Walton’s, was also on tour.
The group was on a family fishing trip when DeOrr disappeared around 2.40 pm. On that day, Mitchell and Vernal choose to take them camping, and the fishing trip was immediate and unexpected, according to other family members. It was to become a destructive decision to head out into the forest.
The campsite was near to the Stone Reservoir, and a stream ran alongside.
Jessica and Vernal told authorities they assumed their son’s great-grandfather was attending him at the Timber Creek Campground, while his great-grandfather thought the boy was down by the creek with his parents and Isaac. DeOrr was wearing a camouflage jacket and blue pajama pants at the time he disappeared.
The parents’ separate 911 calls, police interviews, and other proof triggered an investigation that left more mysteries than answers.
Since that day, there has been no sign of DeOrr, and nobody has been charged in connection with his disappearance. Mitchell and Kunz Sr. were named suspects in January 2016 by former Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman, but they were never arrested or charged. There was little or no evidence that they had committed any crime.
The parents have claimed from the start that they do not know what occurred to their son. Reinwand and Walton also said they had no sense of where the boy was when interviewed by the police. Walton died in June 2019.
Publicly the case has been comparatively quiet in recent months, apart from continued trial between the family and a private investigator. After months of testing at the FBI office in Quantico, Virginia, investigators announced a bone found at the campsite in June 2019 was from an animal and not tied to the missing boy.
According to Lemhi County Sheriff Steve Penner, the case is still open and active. Today, Steve Penner is in charge of the case as the lead investigator and the sheriff of Lemhi County after winning the 2017 election that saw the previous sheriff, Lynn Bowerman, retire.
DeOrr’s Arrival at the Timber Creek Campground
When they reached the campsite, Mitchell, Vernal, and DeOrr put up chairs and inflamed a fire in the firepit. Walton went to the trailer and relaxed inside, claiming to have left the door open.
Issac Reinwand said that he left shortly after arriving to go fishing on the nearby stream, only to return after DeOrr was found to be missing.
When Jessica and Vernal accomplished their tasks, Mitchell alleges that she shouted to her grandfather that they were leaving DeOrr behind while looking around the area. However, Walton maintained that he never heard Jessica’s call and that he was unaware that he was the one responsible for the boy. Thirty minutes later, the family learned, DeOrr was missing.
According to Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman, Jessica and DeOrr Sr. were walking down to a stream near the campsite to fish with Reinwand. DeOrr Jr. accompanied the three individuals.
DeOrr Jr.’s parents asked the two-year-old if he liked to stay with his grandfather or go fishing, to which DeOrr Jr. supposedly began walking back to be with Walton. This would be the last time he was seen alive.
Later, Walton said he saw his grandson near the stream, took his eyes off the boy for just a while, and when he looked back, DeOrr Jr. was gone.
The hunt for DeOrr
Multiple extensive searches have been conducted through the mountain fields, dense pine forests, and waterways in the weeks and months since the boy lost. Search and Rescue teams on foot, horseback and ATVs scoured the remote campground dozens of times over the years. Searches have been made from the air using helicopters and drones.
Advanced teams and K9 dogs were brought in to find any sign of DeOrr, and searchers focused on the Timber Creek and Stone Reservoir near the campsite where he was last seen.
Three private investigators have conducted their own investigations into the case, but no solid proof of DeOrr’s whereabouts was presented.
The group moved 40-minutes down the highway to reach at the Stage Shop, a convenience store in Leadore, where the family declared the store clerk witnessed Mitchell and Kunz Sr. with their son.
However, when asked later, the clerk said they saw a blond boy at 6:00 pm that night, not 1.00 pm, when the parents had given to police in their reports. Vernal Kunz later stated the clerk was “mistaken,” a claim that has been questioned.
Controversy in the Kunz Case
Differences immediately appeared in the accounts of the parents under which DeOrr disappeared. Discrepancies in statements became public, and officials said both had declined multiple polygraph tests. As a result, both Mitchell and DeOrr Sr. were mentioned suspects in the case in January 2016.
Lemhi County Sheriff Lynn Bowerman said, “I believe his parents are hiding something. There is no doubt in my mind. We gave them every opportunity to explain if it was an accident of some kind, and they haven’t.“
Bowerman believed the case “has to be a homicide” and does not believe the boy is anywhere near the area where he disappeared.
The boy was said to be wearing cowboy boots a size too big for his feet, which supposedly kept sliding off, family members said. Many thought that if DeOrr was attacked by an animal or snatched, the boots would have fallen off. But no trace of the boots has turned up.
However, insignificant evidence has been discovered, and neither parent has confessed to the crime. As time passes, the family continues to distance themselves from the community they once considered so highly, leaving everyone wondering, where is DeOrr Kunz Jr.?
Suspicion attached against Jessica and DeOrr Sr.
The couple got a divorce, and Jessica remarried soon after, leaving their apartment abandoned. Investigators got hold of everything put into storage and discovered the jacket that DeOrr Jr. was supposedly wearing on the day he went missing.
Police then verified they were dealing with a possible homicide. No arrests have been made, but it seems that Jessica and DeOrr Sr. remain suspects.
So, what happened? Did little DeOrr wander off into the wilderness, possibly being killed by a wild animal? Or, did DeOrr never actually go on the camping trip?
Evidence continues to grow against the parents, as there was no sign their son was ever at the site, there was no blood or DNA proof discovered, and the jacket he was probably wearing was in their apartment the whole time.
Said Lynn Bowerman, “They need to know that mom and dad are being less than truthful, and they can make a decision on whether to donate based on that. We’ve interviewed them multiple times, and every time there are changes to parts of their story.
The little things all change every time we speak with them. We re-interviewed them, but they weren’t willing to tell us the truth… [Robert and Isaac] were at the scene, so we won’t rule them out, but in terms of persons of interest, I think mom and dad are higher on the list.”
Investigation by Klein
The family hired and then fired a private investigation firm called Klein Investigations and Consulting. The head of the company, Philip Klein, stated that his investigators found evidence to rule out an animal attack or kidnapping scenario. Klein said, “We have said one thing all along in this case – the evidence will lead us to the truth. And we want to assure you, the public, that we are getting there.” Klein also said a member of Deorr’s extended family rehired him to investigate the case, something the attorney for Mitchell and Deorr Sr. denies.
After he declared his opinion on the matter, Mitchell and Kunz fired him, ultimately attempting to take him to court. Their lawsuits were rejected at least three times, with KIC winning every one. The final lawsuit came in October of 2019.
These lawsuits stemmed from the allegations that Klein was negligent in his conversations with the media, including defamatory allegations against the parents that allegedly hindered the investigation.
Klein alleged that the search was, “a sickening example of ‘deflection’ of an event that in our opinion was most probably an accident and coverup.” Further, he claims that the investigators have an opinion of ‘how’ DeOrr died but cannot uncover ‘why’ his death occurred, believing the mother to be the source of the whole coverup. Although she revealed to the media that she thought Vernal could be capable of harming their child, Klein counters that she is just as skillful in committing such a horrendous crime.
Klein is the second investigator to be hired by the family and then quit; both continue to name the parents as the main suspects. Klein believes explicitly the death of DeOrr Kunz was likely an accident and a coverup.
Age progressed photo
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children issued an age-progressed photo of DeOrr Kunz Jr in 2017.
The Result of the DeOrr Kunz Disappearance
Jessica Mitchell and Vernal Kunz broke off their engagement shortly after their son’s disappearance, each ultimately remarrying and moving out of state.
Upon eviction from their shared apartment for failure to make payments, investigators were given entrance to the premises by the residing landlord, where they found the missing camouflage jacket and several toy cars that both parents alleged were with their son at the time of his disappearance. In addition to the toys and jacket, a family friend used a credit card with “seemingly purchases of items unknown to investigators in testimony.” An insurance tracking device box along with instructions was also found.
Cadaver dogs hit on five locations, including a site located just 3/4 of a mile from the campground in 2016. There was no other proof found at the location.
In April 2019, a new private investigator became engaged in the search, David Marshburn. He co-founded the Search For Me Foundation, has become part of the investigation.
In November 2019, HLN’s Real Life Nightmare series reexamined the case and aired unseen footage, including hours of recorded interviews with family members and friends. Also, in 2019, a film by David Paulides, Missing 411, featured the case and had discussions with key members in the investigation.
In March 2020, it was approved a small bone discovered at Timber Creek Campground did not belong DeOrr. Sheriff Steve Penner found the bone in June 2019 and sent it to the FBI office in Quantico, Virginia, for testing. He said, “Preliminary testing couldn’t rule it out as being human, but tests at Quantico did not find any human DNA on the bone. It’s likely the remains are from an animal.”
DeOrr Jay Kunz Jr. was born on December 30, 2012, to Jessica Mitchell and her fiancé at the time, Vernal DeOrr Kunz Sr., in Idaho Falls, Idaho. To his family, he was recognized as ‘Little Man’. He was enthusiastic, fun-loving, and curious, an average child with an above-average love for life.
On July 10 of 2015, Mitchell and Vernal decided to take a camping trip that seemed sudden and unexpected. She would go on to invite her grandfather, Robert Walton, who lived with the couple, to join them. Walton then asked his friend, Issac Reinwand, who insisted he had never met the couple or DeOrr previous to this trip.
In a truck pulling the camping trailer, the five occupants loaded up and drove 2 hours to Leadore. Rather than stopping at the campground, they continue another 40-minutes down the highway to reach at the Stage Shop, a convenience store in Leadore where they claim the store clerk saw Mitchell and Kunz with their son.
The Final Verdict
In a state with so many natural settings, varying from beautiful mountainous ranges to sun-bleached deserts, being outdoors is a primary aspect of Idahoan livelihoods, camping being just one of many favorite pastimes. Boasting an expansive 35 million acres of public land, Idaho seems like the ideal getaway, but when a family camping journey turns to disaster, the vast forest changes from a blessing to a curse.
Years have passed since the departure and alleged abduction of DeOrr Kunz Jr. However, with the continuous support of dedicated investigators such as Phillip Klein, the communities and people who loved DeOrr in their hearts believe there will come a day when DeOrr is discovered, and justice is served.