Crime

Body of missing WWU student found; autopsy planned for Thursday

Authorities watch as members of the U.S. Coast Guard recover a body near the pilings at dock along the Whatcom Waterway near the old Georgia-Pacific log pond in Bellingham Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 6, 2010.
Authorities watch as members of the U.S. Coast Guard recover a body near the pilings at dock along the Whatcom Waterway near the old Georgia-Pacific log pond in Bellingham Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 6, 2010.

BELLINGHAM - The body of missing Western Washington University student Dwight A. Clark was found off a dock near the former Georgia-Pacific log pond Wednesday morning, Oct. 6.

The U.S. Coast Guard pulled the body from the water shortly before 12:30 p.m. A driver's license belonging to Clark was found in a pocket, said Bellingham Police spokesman Mark Young.

The 18-year-old freshman from Auburn was last seen leaving a party in the 1000 block of Indian Street about 2 a.m. Sept. 26.

It's apparent that the body had been in the water for several days, Young said.

Whatcom County Medical Examiner Gary Goldfogel said he will perform an autopsy Thursday.

Clark's mother, RaeLyn, who has been in Bellingham helping search for her son, was handling the tragic discovery as best she could, said Pennie Saum, a friend of the Clark family.

RaeLyn had brought her son up to Bellingham to start college about a week before he disappeared.

"You raise your son up to go to college and six days later he's gone," Saum said. "It's hard on all of us. We're not going to give up. We will find out someone who knows something and get this resolved."

Saum thanked the owners of a bloodhound dog hired to help in the search. She said they drove out from Idaho two days ago and helped track Clark's scent to a beach near downtown, but she wouldn't say which beach.

"He identified that beach and that water as where he was," Saum said.

Since Clark's disappearance, friends, family and fellow students had searched areas of Bellingham for him. Fliers with his photo were posted on businesses poles and trees across the city. A reward fund swelled past $20,000.

Police said the last possible trace of him was a blank text message sent from his cell phone at 2:40 a.m. Sunday. They were able to determine the phone was in the downtown area at the time.

After that, there were no signs of where he had gone.

About 10 a.m. Wednesday, a worker was removing seeding buoys as part of an eelgrass planting project around the log pond.

The worker came underneath a dock that juts out into the pond and spotted the body between the dock and a log boom, Young said. He called authorities.

That area had been thoroughly searched before Wednesday's discovery, Young said. Port workers searched the surrounding property and the water. A helicopter with U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Air and Marine division did an aerial survey of the area, and searchers in boats with cadaver dogs also scoured the shoreline in the area, Young said. They found no indication of a body being in the water, but Young said that's not surprising.

"It would have been extremely easy to miss," Young said. "Sometimes individuals don't surface immediately."

Young said the G-P property is heavily secured by fences, indicating that Clark likely floated into the area from some other location.

Saum thanked detectives, volunteers who helped search for Clark, and the support offered to the family from the Bellingham and Western Washington University communities. Clark was preceded in death by his father and grandmother, Saum said.

"Dwight was a kind, sensitive person who is now safe with his father and grandmother," Saum read from a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon.

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