updated 12/19/2003 4:15:11 PM ET 2003-12-19T21:15:11

Investigators suspect the remains of a woman discovered by hunters on Fort Benning may be those of a pregnant student missing from Georgia Southern University since September.

Small bones believed to be from a human fetus were found near the woman's remains, Fort Benning spokeswoman Monica Manganaro said Thursday.

Police have been searching for Dena Marie Carter, 24, since she was last seen Sept. 11 at her apartment complex near the Statesboro campus. Carter was six months pregnant, and her baby was due around Christmas.

Army investigators are working to expedite DNA tests to identify remains found Tuesday morning by hunters in a wooded area of the Army post near Columbus, Manganaro said. Investigators determined the remains are female, likely a black woman, as Carter was.

"Baby bones were found with the remains that are consistent with those of a 6-month-old fetus," Manganaro said. "All the evidence indicates there's a striking similarity with the case of the missing student from Statesboro."

Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead confirmed the GBI and Statesboro police, which have been trying to find Carter for three months, are assisting federal authorities in determining whether the remains are Carter's.

"They're looking at that possibility, but that hasn't been confirmed," said Bankhead, who declined to comment further.

While Fort Benning is about 210 miles west of Statesboro, Statesboro police have said Carter had a boyfriend stationed at the Army post. Manganaro said she had heard that but could not confirm it.

Carter's mother in Los Angeles also received a call from police about the remains at Fort Benning, but police told her they did not know if the body was Carter's, said Anthony Chavers, Carter's pastor at the Agape Worship Center in Statesboro.

"Her mother called us this morning, and we're trying to keep her calm," Chavers said. "She's sounding a little nervous, but she's OK. She's been trying to prepare herself for this for the past couple of months. She's preparing herself for the best or the worst."

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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