Jefferson County sheriff's officials Thursday confirmed that human remains discovered earlier this month in dense vegetation southeast of President Circle in the Watson Chapel area were those of Maranda Merrell Neal.
Neal was 38 when she was reported missing May 22, 2022. Her remains were located shortly after 4 p.m. on May 5 of this year during "exhaustive grid searches over hundreds of acres of woods" in the area, and DNA testing by the state Crime Lab confirmed the remains were of Neal, the sheriff's office said in a news release.
"The loss of a loved one is an unimaginable tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends as they navigate through their grief," Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr. said in the release. "The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office remains committed to supporting them throughout this process."
Authorities conducted several searches for Neal from the time of her disappearance without producing any leads. A deer hunter then discovered an ATV in a wooded area near Robinson Road in November 2022. That ATV matched the description of the one Neal was last seen riding, according to the sheriff's office. Another search was done in the vicinity after the discovery.
The sheriff's office teamed with the Quapaw Nation Office of Emergency Management, the Morgan Nick Foundation and other first responders for what was to be a three-day search starting May 5 that included 40 searchers, it was reported. The search was suspended after Neal's remains were discovered.
"The collaborative efforts demonstrated the true spirit of community and exemplifying the unwavering commitment to serving," the news release stated.
K-9 teams specially trained in search and rescue were also deployed a second time, according to the release.
The investigation into Neal's disappearance and discovery is ongoing, the sheriff's office said. Anyone with information related to the case is asked to call the sheriff's office at (870) 541-5351 or non-emergency dispatch at (870) 541-5300. Tips may also be provided anonymously to firstname.lastname@example.org.