Facebook video prompts search for missing student's body

Posted at 6:35 PM, Jul 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-12 05:49:02-04

CHESAPEAKE, Ohio (AP) -- A search prompted by a Facebook video suggesting the body of a West Virginia college student last seen in 2002 is buried in Ohio has begun in a southeastern part of the state.

Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless said the FBI is leading the search that began Monday for the body of Marshall University student Samantha Burns and continued Tuesday near Chesapeake, across the river from Huntington, West Virginia.

The 19-year-old Burns, of West Hamlin, West Virginia, has been missing since Nov. 11, 2002. She disappeared after telephoning her mother that she was leaving a mall near Huntington, but she never arrived home. Burns' burned-out car was found the next day on a rural road, just south of Huntington, in that state's Wayne County.

Two men who escaped from a Kentucky jail, Chad Fulks and Brandon Basham, pleaded guilty and were convicted in the abduction and slaying of Burns. They also were convicted in the abduction and slaying of 44-year-old Alice Donovan, who was taken from a parking lot in Conway, South Carolina, during the pair's 17-day multistate crime spree through Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Donavan's remains were found in 2009.

No sign of Burns' body was ever recovered despite numerous searches around the tristate area, which includes West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

In the Facebook video alleging her body is buried on the Lawrence County property, the man says he met and married a woman several months ago. He says his new wife wouldn't let him clear an area of the property where they lived so he could build a pond. He said she later told him Burns' body and other bodies are buried on the property where he wanted to dig.

Lawless said the man also contacted his office, and Lawless called the FBI.

"It's worth taking a look at," Lawless told The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington about the Facebook posts.

The site where authorities are searching has been used for years to burn items, according to the sheriff. The search that will include ground-penetrating radar and rakes and shovels could last for several days, Lawless said.

Lawless told WSAZ-TV in Huntington on Tuesday that nothing of significance had been found, but authorities were bringing in a piece of heavy equipment "so that we can dig deeper into the ground."

Rick Smith, a supervisory agent in the Cincinnati division of the FBI, said Tuesday that he could not confirm whether there is or is not an ongoing investigation.