The Humboldt County Coroner's Office has identified the human remains unearthed from a grave on "Murder Mountain" as those of a 29-year-old San Diego man reported missing in April.
Humboldt County Sheriff's Office detectives found Garret Rodriguez's body buried on private land off of Jewitt Ranch Road in the Rancho Sequoia area on Dec. 1, one day after receiving a call from a citizen telling them there was a possible grave site on the property.
Coroner Dave Parris said the "totality of the circumstances of the investigation" -- including the condition of the body, its location and other things -- led to the identification of Rodriguez's remains, but he declined to discuss those circumstances in detail.
"We have identified this man without a doubt," Parris said, adding that he may ultimately have to seek a DNA comparison if the circumstances of Rodriguez's death ever wind up before a jury.
Parris said an autopsy performed on Sunday determined Rodriguez was the victim of a homicide and his office was able to determine a specific cause of death, which detectives are withholding at this time. Parris said that information could be "instrumental," as it's currently likely only known to whoever may have killed Rodriguez, meaning it's an important tool detectives can use to separate truth from lies in interviews as the investigation moves forward.
The sheriff's office is continuing to work the case.
"We have leads that we're working," said Detective Jennifer Turner, "but we're not naming any suspects right now."
Sheriff's Lt. Steve Knight said the FBI has stepped in to assist with the investigation, and federal agents have been in "daily contact" with local detectives.
Rodriguez reportedly traveled to Humboldt last December, having told his father he was going to work at a medical marijuana grow operation on "Murder Mountain," as the Southern Humboldt subdivision of Rancho Sequoia near Alderpoint is sometimes known.
Worried after not having heard from his son in about six months, Rodriguez's father reported him missing on April 25. Rodriguez's family and friends have been very involved in an investigation into his whereabouts, even pooling funds to hire a private investigator -- McKinleyville's Cook and Associates -- to look into the matter.
After moving slowly for months, the case caught a huge break late last month.
On Nov. 30, Turner said the sheriff's office received a call from a citizen who said they had received information that Rodriguez's body was buried in a small, open field on a rural property off Jewitt Ranch Road.
"It's someone that we have been speaking with in regards to the investigation," Turner said of the caller. "We are familiar with this person. He or she has been in contact with us for months and months about the investigation."
While rumors have been rampantly connecting the discovery of Rodriguez's body with a Thanksgiving kidnapping case in Rancho Sequoia, as reported by Kym Kemp on the Lost Coast Outpost, the sheriff's office is not confirming or commenting on any potential connection.
The kidnapping was reported Nov. 29 by two men who claimed they were at a friend's house in the Rancho Sequoia area when eight men, carrying high-powered rifles and clad head to toe in camouflage, shot their friend several times before pushing him into a truck and driving away. The Rancho Sequoia man turned up a handful of hours later at a local hospital.
As outlined in Kemp's story, numerous social media posts have referred to the men as a vigilante group, saying they kidnapped the Rancho Sequoia man in order to extract information about Rodriguez's whereabouts.
The sheriff's office received the call notifying them of Rodriguez's grave site on Nov. 30.
Sheriff's Sgt. Diana Freese said Tuesday that the kidnapping remains under investigation and declined to release any additional information.
"We just don't have an update yet," she said.
Parris indicated that he believes there may be some movement in Rodriguez's case in the near future.
"In the next few days, I think we'll see developments," he said.
In previous interviews with the Times-Standard, Rodriguez's family and friends said he loved the ocean and was a passionately loyal friend, with a sweet, kind heart, green eyes and a beautiful smile.
"He had a love of life," his aunt Bonnie Taylor said.
Turner and Knight said the sheriff's office is still very interested in speaking with anyone out there who might have first-hand knowledge of what happened to Rodriguez. They ask anyone with information to step forward and call Turner at 268-3642 or the Sheriff's Office Crime Tip line at 268-2539.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThadeusGreenson.