The Disappearance of DeOrr Kunz Jr.

What happened to Idaho’s ‘Little Man’?

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Image of DeOrr Kunz Jr. on a billboard overlooking a highway. 2017. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

‘HE JUST VANISHED’ |

A spur-of-the-moment family outing ends in tragedy when a woman calls emergency services to report that her 2-year-old son, DeOrr Kunz Jr., is missing from the Timber Creek Campground ten-miles west of Leadore, Idaho.

In the years since, repeated attempts of deceit have painted the parents as suspects by police and their former private investigator. However, minimal evidence has been found and neither parent has confessed to the crime. As time passes, the family continues to distance themselves from the community they once regarded so highly, leaving everyone wondering — where is DeOrr Kunz Jr.?

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BEFORE |

DeOrr Jay Kunz Jr. was born on December 30, 2012, to Jessica Mitchell and her fiancé at the time, Vernal DeOrr Kunz Sr., in Idaho Falls, Idaho. To his family, he was known as ‘Little Man’. He was vivacious, fun-loving, and curious; an average child with an above-average love for life.

On the day of July 10th of 2015, Mitchell and Vernal decided to take a camping trip that appeared sudden and unexpected. She would go on to invite her grandfather, Robert Walton, who lived with the couple, to join them. Walton then invited his friend, Issac Reinwand, who claimed he had never met the couple or DeOrr previous to this trip.

In a truck pulling the camping trailer, the five occupants loaded up and drove 2 hours to Leadore. Rather than stopping at the campground, they continue another 40-minutes down the highway to arrive at the Stage Shop, a convenience store in Leadore where they claim the store clerk witnessed Mitchell and Kunz with their son.

However, when questioned later, the clerk stated they saw a blond boy at 6:00 (18:00) that night, not the 1 o’clock (13:00) time the parents had given to police in their reports. Vernal Kunz later stated the clerk was “mistaken”, a claim that is scrutinized to this day.

When they finally pull up to the campground, Mitchell, Vernal, and DeOrr put up chairs and lit a fire in the firepit, despite the average temperature reaching over 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 Celcius) that day. Meanwhile, Walton opens up the trailer and relaxes inside, claiming to have left the door open.

Reinwand states that he left shortly after arriving to go fishing on the nearby waterway, only to return after the toddler was discovered to be missing.

When Jessica and Vernal completed their tasks, Mitchell alleges that she shouted to her grandfather that they were leaving DeOrr behind while they explored the grounds. However, Walton maintained that he never heard Jessica’s call and that he was unaware that he was the one responsible for the toddler.

In a mere half-hour, the family would come to discover that DeOrr was missing, believing he was abducted.

THE 911 CALL |

Using the link above, you can listen to the 911 call made by DeOrr’s mother.

The 9–1–1 call, which lasted just over four minutes, is seemingly vacant of the emotion we might expect from a parent who has just lost their child. Everyone grieves differently and her lack of emotional appeal might signify that Mitchell has simply gone into shock, but many speculate that her behavior is an admittance of guilt.

In the background of Mitchell’s call, we can hear DeOrr’s father, Vernal, making his own call to emergency services.

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Map image showing distance from Leadore, Idaho to the Timber Creek campground where DeOrr went missing. 2016. East Idaho News.

SINCE |

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Age-progression image of DeOrr Kunz Jr. 2017. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

In January of 2016, Jessica Mitchell and Vernal Kunz Sr. were named suspects in their son’s disappearance by Lemhi County Sheriff at the time, Lynn Bowerman, after their recollections of events leading up to DeOrr’s disappearance changed several times throughout the investigation.

The scrutiny of their involvement in their son’s disappearance continued as their private-investigator, Phillip Klein of Klein Investigations and Consulting in Texas, came to also name them as suspects. After he announced his opinion on the matter, Mitchell and Kunz fired him, eventually attempting to take him to court. Their lawsuits were dismissed at least three times, with KIC winning every one. The final lawsuit came in October of 2019.

These lawsuits stemmed from the allegations that Klein was negligent in his conversations to the media, including slanderous allegations against the parents that allegedly hindered the investigation.

Klein alleges that the investigation was, “a sickening example of ‘deflection’ of an event that in our opinion was most probably an accident and coverup.” Further, he claims that the investigators have an idea of ‘how’ DeOrr died but cannot uncover ‘why’ his death occurred, believing the mother to be the source of the entire coverup. Although she admitted to the media that she believed Vernal could be capable of harming their child, Klein counters that she is just as capable of committing such a heinous crime.

Klein is the second investigator to be hired by the family and then quit; both continue to name the parents as the primary suspects. Klein specifically believes the death of DeOrr Kunz was likely an accident and a cover-up.

In a 2019 update, East Idaho News reports that Klein believes the parents know where their son is, citing inconsistency in their stories over time, multiple failed polygraphs, blood found at the scene, and a hit by cadaver dogs.

He goes on to state, “We, the investigators in the case, stand next to our opinions and conclusions based upon our investigation and the law enforcement investigation that not only is Vernal Kunz a person of interest, (he is) a suspect in the disappearance of DeOrr Kunz Jr.”

Reinwand has never been named a person of interest but never a suspect and his story has remained consistent since the initial reports were filed.

Today, Steve Penner resides over the case as not only the lead investigator but also the sheriff of Lemhi County after winning the 2017 election that saw the previous sheriff retire from his post.

In the summer of 2019, Robert Walton died after battling with cancer, taking any information previously not given to investigators with him to the grave.

Jessica Mitchell and Vernal Kunz broke their engagement shortly after the disappearance of their son, each eventually remarrying and moving out of state.

Upon eviction from their shared apartment for failure to make payments, investigators were given access to the premises by the residing landlord where they discovered the missing camouflage jacket and several toy cars that both parents alleged were with their son at the time of his disappearance.

Upon these discoveries, Klein states that over a subsequent five-day search, cadaver dogs hit on five locations, including a site located just 3/4 of a mile from the campground. He concludes that the area “may have been a ‘holding site’ for some type of human body”. There was no other evidence found at the location but in his closing report, he believes the time of death is now around 5 p.m. (17:00) the day before Mitchell called emergency services from Leadore.

CONCLUSION |

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Photo by Danny Grizzle on Unsplash

In a state with so many natural features, ranging from scenic mountainous ranges to sun-bleached deserts, being outdoors is an essential aspect of Idahoan livelihoods, camping being just one of many beloved pastimes. Boasting an expansive 35 million acres of public land, Idaho seems like the perfect getaway, but when a family camping trip turns to tragedy, the vast wilderness changes from a blessing to a curse.

Years have passed since the disappearance and alleged abduction of DeOrr Kunz Jr. However, with the ongoing support of dedicated investigators such as Phillip Klein, the communities and individuals who hold DeOrr in their hearts believe there will come a day when DeOrr is found and justice is served.

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IMPORTANT CONTACTS |

If you have seen DeOrr since his disappearance or know something that could help investigators close this case, please do not hesitate to call one of the numbers listed below:

1–800-THE-LOST (The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

1–208–756–8980 (Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office)

https://www.kleininvestigations.com/ (Klein Investigations and Consulting)

When in doubt, reach out to emergency services at 9–1–1 to report any information that could lead to the solving of DeOrr Kunz Jr.’s strange disappearance or the arrest of individuals involved.

Phillip Klein has opened his investigative findings to all federal, state, and local authorities and entities to further propel this case into the hands of those who also wish to find peace for DeOrr.

WORKS CITED|

Eaton, N. (2015). Deorr Kunz disappearance: A timeline of events, East Idaho News. Retrieved from https://www.eastidahonews.com/2015/07/deorr-kunz-disappearance-a-timeline-of-events/

Sunderland, N. (2015). Mother’s 911 phone call released — “My 2-year-old son, we can’t find him…”, East Idaho News. Retrieved from https://www.eastidahonews.com/2015/07/mothers-911-phone-call-released-my-2-year-old-son-we-cant-find-him/

Anonymous. (2019). Find Missing DeOrr Jay Kunz Jr! Cold Cases, Missing, Unidentified, and Victims. Retrieved from https://www.missingadultskids.com/find-missing-deorr-jay-kunz-jr/#.Xb47o-hKhPY

KBOI News Staff. (2016). Investigators find ‘missing’ camo jacket, toys at Kunz apartment, Idaho News. Retrieved from https://idahonews.com/news/local/investigators-find-missing-jacket-toys-at-deorr-kunzs-old-apartment

Eaton, N. (2017). Age-progressed photo of DeOrr Kunz Jr. released, East Idaho News. Retrieved from https://www.eastidahonews.com/2017/05/age-progressed-photo-deorr-kunz-jr-released/

Eaton, N. (2016). One Year Later: The DeOrr Kunz Mystery, East Idaho News. Retrieved from https://www.eastidahonews.com/2016/07/one-year-later-deorr-kunz-mystery/

Anonymous. (2019). Update: Attorneys appear in court as lawsuit over DeOrr Kunz investigation continues, KIFI Breaking News. Retrieved from https://www.localnews8.com/news/kifi-breaking-news/texas-investigator-drops-out-of-deorr-kunz-investigation/656386440

Klein Investigations and Consulting. (2017). Statement On The DeOrr Kunz Case, Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/KleinInvestigations/posts/statement-on-the-deorr-kunz-case-this-afternoon-we-have-been-receiving-some-medi/1359647210784526/

Anonymous. (2017). DeOrr Jay Kunz Jr., The Charley Project. Retrieved from http://charleyproject.org/case/deorr-jay-kunz-jr

DISCLAIMER |

This article has been made to bring awareness to the case and the victim(s) involved. The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the officials presiding over the case. In my best effort, I have attempted to locate all facts from credible sources and assembled them in a cohesive storyline. I sincerely apologize if anything has been left out or was mispresented; contact immediately regarding any mistakes.

Written by

A twenty-six-year-old writer and author from the States, interested in political, social, and environmental issues.

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