Yakima County Coroner's Office 2

FILE — Yakima County Coroner’s Office. (Yakima Herald-Republic / Donald W. Meyers, file

Human remains found July 21 on a Yakima River island near Wapato are male, the Yakima County coroner said.

Jim Curtice is still working to positively identify the man, who he estimates was around age 30. He has said the body was badly decomposed, mostly skeletal, and there was no telling how long it was in the area where it was found, or how it got there.

“We have a pretty good idea of who it is. We can’t release that. We’re just waiting to get enough dental” records, Curtice said. “The (Yakima County) Sheriff’s Office is in the process of doing that. If this doesn’t pan out, it’s probably going to be a DNA thing.”

DNA samples have been sent to the Washington State Patrol labs, Curtice said. But he strongly hopes dental records will suffice.

“The records of the person we think it is are from when the person was younger. The person that we think it is falls right into the age category, probably 30-ish range, but we’re waiting to make a positive scientific identification,” he said.

A man discovered the body on an island in the river about a half-mile west of the Donald-Wapato Bridge, the sheriff’s office initially reported. There was no evidence of how the person may have died, deputies said at the time.

Until Tuesday, Curtice had not released the gender of the remains. “Because we have so many missing people, I don’t want to send out any false hopes to anyone,” he has said.

Along with seeking more dental records — X-rays are key, he noted — Curtice may check into private labs if the State Patrol lab backlog for DNA testing is long. The process could take several weeks or several months through the state. {span style=”background-color: #deffde;”} “If it’s a significant time frame difference,” Curtice said, and the cost is not prohibitive, he may use a private lab for DNA testing.{/span}

“It just depends on the material they got and their backlog, and how fast their process goes,” he said. “Being a missing person identification thing might put it up front.”

The issue of people who have gone missing in the Yakima Valley over decades, particularly Native women, has received increased international attention in the past few years. Indigenous women throughout and beyond the United States have suffered physical and sexual violence at disproportionate rates for decades.

No one knows exactly how many Native women and girls have gone missing on or around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Nation reservation, and many cases of missing and murdered women, and women and men who died under mysterious circumstances, are unsolved.

“People are starting to recognize there’s a big problem here,” Curtice said.

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.