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Jawbone found by rock-collecting child identified as that of Marine who died in 1951 training accident

A child's parents turned the bone over to an Arizona sheriff's department in 2002. A team of students identified the remains more than 20 years later.
Students at the Ramapo College Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center
Students at the Ramapo College Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center identified the remains of Capt. Everett Leland Yager.Ramapo College

A jawbone discovered two decades ago in Arizona by a boy with a rock collection was positively identified decades later as that of a Marine who died in a 1951 training accident.

Last year, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office turned the piece of bone over to the Ramapo College Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center in New Jersey. It had come into the sheriff's possession in 2002 after a boy's parents found it in his rock collection.

Traditional DNA testing yielded no results, and the case remained dormant until the bone was turned over to the genealogy center.

Ramapo College said in a news release this week that the jawbone is that of Capt. Everett Leland Yager, who died in a training accident in California more than 70 years ago.

Yager's remains were collected from the accident site at the time and turned over to his family, who buried them in his hometown in Missouri. It's unclear how the jawbone made its way to Arizona, but experts believe a bird may have picked it up.

This photo of Captain Yager appeared in the Palmyra Spectator in 1944.
This photo of Captain Yager appeared in The Palmyra Spectator in Missouri in 1944.Palmyra Spectator

Cairenn Binder, assistant director of the Ramapo College IGG Center, said the school's summer boot camp students worked with experienced researchers.

"This case was a lesson in expecting the unexpected and a testament to the power of IGG education at Ramapo College of New Jersey," Binder said.

A genetic profile was developed using genome sequencing and bioinformatics in May after a human identification center in Texas sent a sample to a forensics lab in Salt Lake City.

The boot camp students took over the case in July and found a potential candidate within two days, and they turned their case over to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.

Yager’s daughter last month provided a DNA sample, which was found to have a parent/child match with the genetic profile. The remains will be turned over to Yager’s family.