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Police ID body as that of U.S. basketball player

Police said Wednesday they had confirmed the identity of a former Washington State basketball player whose body was found at an isolated military range in central Brazil.
Brazil Harris Death
The coffin containing the body of former Washington State University basketball player Tony Harris sits on the floor of a Brazil morgue on Sunday. Harris was found dead in a dense thicket in central Brazil about two weeks after he was reported missing. Ueslei Marcelino / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police said Wednesday they had confirmed the identity of a former Washington State basketball player whose body was found at an isolated military range in central Brazil.

Dental records and fingerprints were used to identify the body of Tony Harris, who police say most likely committed suicide.

His body was found Sunday slumped against a tree in a dense thicket at a sprawling army training ground near the town of Formosa. The shoelace from one of his sneakers was wrapped around his neck, according to police spokesman Norton Luiz, who said the only footprints nearby were those of Harris.

Harris, who recently lost a job in the United States and whose wife is pregnant with their first child, arrived in Brazil only three days before missing a Nov. 4 game for his new team, Universo of Brasilia.

“Unless new facts emerge that prove us wrong, we are convinced that Harris committed suicide,” Luiz said by phone. “The final forensic report — that won’t be ready for at least 30 days — will tell us the official cause of death and whether he killed himself or was a homicide victim.”

He said that testimony from teammates and other witnesses “have convinced us that Harris committed suicide.”

He said Harris’ body would be cremated in a few days and his ashes taken to the United States by his father-in-law.

Found in isolated military zone
Witnesses have told police that on Nov. 4, Harris took a long-distance taxi trip, but jumped out at a gas station in Formosa.

Brazil Harris Death Basketball
In this undated handout photo provided by Washington State University Sports Information, Tony Harris is shown in a college basketball game. The body of Harris, who was reported missing two weeks ago, has been found in Brazil, police said on Monday, Nov. 19, 2007. Harris was under contract to Universo, a professional Brazilian basketball team based in Brasilia, the country's capital. (AP Photo/Washington State Sports Information, File)Byline Title: Ho / WSU Sports Information

“Three days later, he was he was seen near the town looking like a beggar,” Luiz said. “The owner of a luncheonette felt sorry for him and gave him some food. She tried talking to him but gave up because she couldn’t understand his Portuguese.”

After Nov. 7, no one saw him alive again, Luiz said.

Luiz said the military zone where Harris was found is an “immense isolated area covering 120,000 hectares (297,000 acres) that is completely surrounded by barbed wire and about 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the nearest road.” It is sometimes used as a range for artillery rocket practice.

“We are not sure exactly how he got to the training ground, but it appears that he walked there and crawled under or jumped over the barbed wire,” Luiz said.

It is illegal to enter the area without permission from the Army, Luiz said. Even police officers investigating the case needed to get authorization to enter.

Leader of WSU team
Harris debuted Nov. 1 for Universo, and team director Ricardo Oliveira said he played Nov. 3 in a South American club championship game against Argentina’s Penarol in Brasilia.

Harris, who would have turned 37 last Sunday, was a leader of the 1994 WSU team that made it to the East Regionals of the NCAA tournament. Harris averaged 12.4 points and 4.3 rebounds a game in two seasons at WSU.

After college, Harris played for teams in Russia, Venezuela, Greece, Brazil and Cyprus.

He returned to Seattle and recently worked as a counselor at Echo Glen, a juvenile rehabilitation facility. But that job ended when he was not hired permanently in February, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.