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Family of murder victim honors birthday as police continue investigation

(WDBJ)
Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 3:27 PM EDT
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BUENA VISTA, Va. (WDBJ/Virginia State Police Release) - A Buena Vista family will be honoring a birthday instead of celebrating it Thursday.

Chad Austin would have turned 32 October 22, 2020. His remains were recovered in Amherst County in May, a year after he was reported missing. Virginia State Police, the Buena Vista Police Department and Amherst County Sheriff’s Office continue to look for his killer.

Austin’s silver 2006 Hyundai Tiburon was found May 28, 2019, about two miles from the turnoff for Panther Falls Road. His mixed-breed dog, Gunner, was found unhurt, locked inside the car. Investigators say the last confirmed sighting of Austin was Memorial Day, May 27, 2019, in the Panther Falls/Shady Mountain area, east of the Blue Ridge Parkway

A police search of the area led to knives and other items belonging to Austin found about a half mile from the car. Evidence at the scene indicated Austin was killed in a struggle with someone, according to police. His wallet was found in the Panther Falls area six months later.

The Virginia State Police, along w/partnering agencies - Buena Vista Police Department & Amherst County Sheriff's Office are hosting a press conference to provide new information in regards to the 2019 disappearance and death of Chad H. Austin of Buena Vista, Va. At this time, Mrs. Ellen Austin, Chad’s mother, his father and other family are addressing media. Thursday (Oct. 22, 2020) marks Chad’s 32nd birthday.

Posted by Virginia State Police on Wednesday, October 21, 2020

“We especially want to hear from the individual(s) who returned Chad’s wallet to the scene more than six months after his disappearance,” said Special Agent Kevin Zirkle with Virginia State Police. “It was not overlooked on previous searches of that area. We know it was intentionally placed there and, perhaps, there is a very reasonable explanation. We have been trying to figure out why that person, though, has not contacted us yet.”

Police have also confirmed, through text messages on Austin’s phone, that in the days leading to his disappearance and death, he believed he would soon be confronted by a group of people determined to settle a disagreement with him.

“We have no reason whatsoever to believe that Chad was looking for trouble, but we do know that he had a reason to suspect a confrontation was inevitable. We know there are additional people in the Buena Vista community who know certain pieces of information related to Chad’s death, but are fearful to come forward for a number of reasons. We want to reassure these individuals that our number one goal is to correctly identify the person who did this to Chad. We know this was the act of one person, but that others were witness to his murder. We need to hear from those persons in order to render an arrest and see justice done for Chad and his family,” Zirkle said.

In March 2020, investigators returned to the Panther Falls area on a tip and found skeletal remains, which were confirmed as those of Chad Austin.

“To even fathom that our son’s life was taken so early, is so hard for our family to bear,” said Ellen Austin, Chad’s mother. “To have Chad missing for a year and then to find out your son is dead has been horrific. Some were saying that at least you found him, but that doesn’t even begin to help us have closure because there are still so many unanswered questions. That’s why we need your help - everyone’s help. No matter how big or small, if you know something, please call state police or the Buena Vista Police. Please do this for our family.”

Anyone with information about Austin’s death is asked to contact Virginia State Police at (540) 375-9589 or by email at questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

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