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Remains that washed ashore in Port Angeles in 2021 identified as missing Sequim woman

DNA from a human foot inside of a shoe that washed up near the mouth of the Elwha River has been matched to a woman who was reported missing in 2018.

PORT ANGELES, Wash. — Authorities have identified remains that washed ashore in Port Angeles in December of 2021.

A foot inside of a shoe washed up near the mouth of the Elwha River and belonged to a resident of Sequim, Jerilyn Smith, who was reported missing on Jan. 7, 2018. She was 68 years old at the time of her disappearance, according to the Clallam County Sheriff's Office (CCSO).

Due to the limited recovery of the woman's remains, CCSO worked with Othram, a private company that specializes in testing trace amounts, degraded or contaminated DNA. 

"If you have, you know, a small piece of the skeleton, like a foot, for example, like, what what can you do with that?" asked David Mittelton, the CEO of Othram. "And then once we built it, the genealogy took a little time but we got through it. The investigators, we have to give them credit, too, because all we do is generate a lead but then we pass to the investigators," Mittelton said.

Jerilyn Smith's picture and information was posted to NAM-US the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. Her car was found parked near the Elwha River Bridge west of Port Angeles. Divers searched the area but she was never found. 

According to the Pennisula Daily News, Smith was the face of the chamber in Sequim. She was a grand marshal of the 2009 Sequim Irrigation Festival and was a chamber office administrator, retiring after 17 years. She later returned to volunteer her time. 

Othram is grateful to help investigators find an answer in cases like this. 

"Everything we do has to do about either seeking justice for a victim or trying to do our part in some small way to mend families that have been torn apart by either the loss of a loved one or or the infliction of a crime," Mittelton said. 

A DNASolves crowdfund was also created to cover the cost of the testing and casework. DNASolves works exclusively with law enforcement to facilitate fundraising for Othram's services.

CCSO said in a release that they would, "like to thank all those who participated in funding the DNA research on this case that ultimately helped a family with having some semblance of closure during the grieved loss of their loved one."

According to CCSO, there is nothing suspicious about the manner of Smith's death. 

This discovery was one of more than 20 shoes with feet in them that have washed up on shorelines surrounding the Salish Sea in the last decade.

So, why does it occur?

University of Washington Professor of Oceanography Dr. Parker MacCready said the phenomenon occurs due to three main factors: how bodies decompose in these waters, the buoyancy of the shoes and wind patterns in the region.

Salish Sea waters are cold, the temperature usually does not exceed 55 degrees. According to MacCready, the cool water helps preserve what is left of the bodies that is not eaten by marine life. 

Most modern sneakers contain a lot of foam, which is hard for scavengers to eat, so they often stay in tact, along with feet that are inside them. They are also very buoyant and frequently float to the surface.

Then, the region's wind patterns are why they wash ashore at that rate. The wind speed is very fast compared to the speed of the water. So, the wind will push an object through the water faster than the current can move it.

This region also sits between 40 and 50 degrees longitude, which brings westerly winds that would push objects onshore.

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