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San Berandino County Mud Slide Press Conference

Aired December 27, 2003 - 15:19   ET


FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredericka Whitfield on to Southern California there, in San Bernardino County, Where fire and rescue officials are updating folks on the ongoing search for victims following the Christmas day mud slides, lets listen in.
CINDY BEAVERS, PIO. SAN BERNARDINO CO. SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: The only -- well let's start off with we still have five victims and that's four children and one adult. We still have nine people missing that include four adults and five children. The area that's covered by the rescuers on foot is approximately four miles from top to the bottom, down to the basin. And about a half mile across. Yesterday, a search and rescue member from the big bear area was injured. He slipped and fell during the day shift operation and possibly fractured his tailbone. He's being examined at the Big Bear Hospital. Doesn't sound like it's a very serious injury. Nonetheless, he was injured yesterday during day shift. That's the only new information that I have. And I'm going to turn it over to Rocky from the Coroner's Office, and then we'll take any questions you have.

ROCKY SHAW, DEPUTY CORONER SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY CALIF.: Good afternoon. I'm here today to confirm that we have, at present time, as a result of the Waterman Canyon recovery, recovered five remains, of those remains, we've been able to make notification and positive identification on the following people, a 17-year-old Wendy Monzone, 9-year-old Racquel Monzon, who is a sibling to Wendy. Also recovered and identified, Jose Pablo Navarro, he's 11 years of age. We made recovery of another male approximately 12 to 14 years of age who as of yet is still unidentified. Likewise, last night, at approximately 10:30, we finalized the recovery of a male who is approximately 30 years of age and pending proper notification of his next of kin, we will then release the name. There was question also, I believe, reference the two victims in the Devore incident. Our department likewise is handling the investigation of those two. They were, I believe, confirmed already but I will give the names again. Involved first, we recovered the remains of a Carol Eugene Nuss, Mr. Nuss is a resident of Kansas. Also recovered was Janis Arlene Stout'Bradly. Ms. Bradley is a 60-year-old resident of San Bernardino. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is identification been particularly difficult because of the condition of these bodies?

SHAW: The identification with children, obviously, is always very difficult. Again we must rely upon photographic evidence, face- to-face interviews with the family of descriptions. Quite often there are not fingerprints that are available on file as well. And yes, given the condition of the remains, it has been difficult for the family as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Isn't one of the children from the camp, isn't there process of elimination? Is it that the 10 to 12-year-old is that from the camp?

SHAW: All of the remains that we currently are in possession of and that we have located and been able to identify are, in fact, from the area of the camp. Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Monzone children those are the caretaker's children? Is that right?

SHAW: I actually don't know of the relationship there, as to whether or not they're the caretaker's family, but they are of the same family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about the other, the boy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night at 10:30 this gentleman you were finally able to extract him, does your office do the extraction and how difficult is that process given the situation up there?

SHAW: Actually, as to not, perhaps, for the families in reference to that the extraction took approximately five hours from the time that we were first involved. We participated again with members of search and rescue, the fire recovery hand crews because of the mud and debris that is there. It is a very difficult task and obviously, we do that in a fashion as best to not disturb any evidence, but also to receive the remains back as intact as we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was talk during your briefing this morning that some of your crews were finding not bodies, but body parts. And that you were actually having to use little GPS locaters to mark them. Is that process still ongoing?

SHAW: It is still ongoing in the process of placing of the remains at association of the remains with one another. We do, at this point, have association with any subsequent body parts that were recovered with bodies that have been recovered. There are none that we are aware of that are disassociated at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So there were body parts found, then, not attached to the bodies?

SHAW: There were in fact.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you be more specific?

SHAW: I actually won't be specific until after the conclusion of the autopsies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you talk a little bit or somebody else talk about the victims, you know? We understand a lot of them were from Guatemala. Can you talk about the church and what the people were from? SHAW: Actually, I don't have all of the information reference all of the family members. Again, those that I have met with, those family members, we did, in fact, meet at a local church. Apparently, there is a common bond among all of the family members, that they attended this church or were there and friends or family of members of the church. The church has been very helpful to us in putting this together and likewise giving us a venue by which we can meet privately with the families.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be kind enough to reiterate the --.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there an active investigation going on?

SHAW: When I referred to that the evidence that pertains primarily to any associated property, any clothing that might exist that might be utilized later for identification, items of that personal effects, if you will, as it pertains to an actual criminal investigation no, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be kind enough to reiterate how concentrated of an area the body parts were in and how they were discovered, please?

SHAW: As it pertains to the discovery, I'm afraid I cannot elaborate. Perhaps someone from search and rescue would be able to do that better. But as it pertains to the area in which the remains were found of all of the five that this department has currently recovered, they were all found essentially within a quarter mile area. This was midway in the section of Waterman Canyon. Again, approximately one and a half to perhaps two miles downstream or down water flow from where the camp was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know how many areas the dogs have alerted on or how many areas they now believe victims may be?

SHAW: I'm afraid I don't have that information currently.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us; do you know if the young boy, Jose was related to the other Monzone? Was he a family member as well?

SHAW: At present time I don't know of a relationship that exists there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Based on the condition of the bodies, can you talk about the force of this mudslide, as you believe it was?

SHAW: Again, condition of the bodies, we're very fortunate that the bodies are intact for the most part. We're very thankful for that, it certainly helps in not only the recovery, but for the families as well. That's the most important aspect that they receive their loved one back complete.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been hearing that this mudslide was capable of ripping through a concrete wall. SHAW: Incredibly, in some of the damage that obviously all of you have witnessed up there to the property and to the hillsides and what have you. But for the most part, again we found the bodies to be intact. Thank you very much.

BEAVERS: We'll have another briefing at 3:00 this afternoon.

WHITFIELD: All right, you've been listening to Rocky Shaw the coroner for San Bernardino County. He says nine are still missing in that county, after the Christmas day mudslides. So far, they have found seven bodies in all, five recovered in the Waterman Canyon area, the hardest hit, including a 17-year-old, a 19-year-old pair of sisters, an 11-year-old and 12-year-old boy, two different boys in that case, and of course a 30-year-old adult. In Devore, they recovered the bodies of two adults. Among the nine still missing, four adults and five children, ranging in ages between 6 months and 16 years. Searchers are trying to cover an area that spans about four miles from top to bottom of those mountains there and it's very difficult for them to determine. They describe that because of several feet of mud and debris. Most of the search is taking place by the searchers literally walking that area. We'll have more on this story and our other top stories of the day in 30 minutes. We'll be right back.


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