The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

August 4, 2012

Missing Greenbrier youth found in Cheat River

Foul play isn’t suspected but the Army National Guard is awaiting word from West Virginia’s chief medical examiner before closing the book on the death of a Greenbrier County youth enrolled in a program for at-risk teenagers.

Authorities said the remains of 17-year-old Gatlin Jones of Clintonville were found in the Cheat River, but no one can say for now just how he wound up there.

Jones disappeared July 18 after walking away from the West Virginia National Guard ChalleNGe Academy at Camp Dawson in Kingwood.

Jones at first was sent to the Preston County coroner but his body subsequently was shipped to the medical examiner in Charleston for an autopsy, a Guard spokesperson said Friday.

“We don’t know the cause of death yet,” she said.

“As far as foul play, we’re going to have to get a better idea once the office gives us a cause of death. As of right now, we personally don’t suspect foul play.”

The circumstances of Jones’ disappearance from the camp were unknown.

Students picked for the academy undergo a five-month residential phase, followed by a year-long follow-up program, with a supervised mentor. The class in which Jones was enrolled had opened only two days before he walked off.

The academy has graduated 2,559 cadets through this past June.

Among those successfully completing the program, the Guard said 41 percent entered the work force, 18 percent enlisted for military duty, 14 percent went back to high school, 16 percent decided to undergo vocational training and 11 percent enrolled in college.

West Virginia’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, said the Guard and academy staff “send their heartfelt condolences to Cadet Jones’ family and friends.”

“We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure the health and well-being of the students of the West Virginia ChalleNGe Academy.”

In the aftermath of the incident, the general said additional chaplains and professional counselors were called in to assist those troubled by the death.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of cadet Gatlin Jones,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said in a statement.

“(First lady) Joanne and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to his parents, his family and the community of Clintonville. I know the staff and students at the ChalleNGe Academy are also mourning the loss of this young man.”

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