Gravesite confirmed to be a pet, not missing man

Possible new lead in missing man case fizzles
By: 
Marlo Pronovost
Friday, November 16, 2018

Photo courtesy of the Fitch family

This grave was discovered Monday upstream from the Reed Point bridge where missing man Brandon Fitch is believed to have last been seen on this past summer.

What appeared to be a possible break in the case of a missing Columbus man who authorities presume drowned in the Yellowstone River was dashed late Wednesday.

Stillwater County Sheriff Cliff Brophy and Brandon Fitch’s family have confirmed the grave holds a dog, therefore ending the investigation into the lead.

THE LEAD

On Monday, Nov. 12, a private searcher working with Fitch’s family found a grave in Reed Point, just upstream from the bridge that the 20-year-old was reportedly last seen entering the water from in the early morning hours of June 16. It was described as a large, fresh, unmarked grave. Photographs show it was marked by a wooden cross.

Fitch’s mother, Sarah, reported the discovery to Brophy, who sent Chief Deputy Investigator Skylar Steele to the scene. Steele determined the grave was on private property, which meant authorities needed to assess the appropriate legal approach to appropriately handle the scene, said Brophy.

Efforts to contact the landowner were initiated by lawmen and on Tuesday, a Billings TV station aired a report on the discovery of the grave.

That evening, a woman called dispatch after seeing the news report on the grave discovery and told authorities she had buried a dog in that location, said Brophy.

The following day, the woman was questioned more.

“We have determined that this grave site is not connected. It is a location of a pet burial,” Brophy said Thursday morning, adding that the woman knew details about the site that were not disclosed in the newscast and that she not related to anyone involved in the case.

Sarah Fitch also spoke with the pet owners, whom she described as “more than good and understanding people” who offered to unearth the grave so she could see for certain it was not her son. The family did not feel the need to have that step taken and are confident the grave has nothing to do with her son, said Fitch Friday morning.

OTHER INCONSISTENCIES

Before the grave was confirmed to be that of a pet, Brophy said there were “inconsistencies” between the grave and what a grave dug at the time of Brandon Fitch’s disappearance would look like. Notable, said Brophy, was the presence of cacti growing through the rocks. Four months would not have been long enough for that to have occurred, said Brophy.

There were also other inconsistencies that Brophy declined to discuss, citing the need for confidentiality, as the matter is an ongoing investigation.

Brophy did confirm that his office has been in contact with the Montana Criminal Investigation Bureau regarding the case.

153 DAYS

Friday, Nov. 16, marked the 153rd day the Fitch family has searched for Brandon.

An initial immediate response by law enforcement and Search and Rescue failed to find Fitch, as have numerous land, water and aerial searchers conducted by authorities, the Fitch family and private citizens.

While it remains on open investigation and Fitch is officially a “Missing Person” with his photo and information listed on the Montana Department of Justice’s missing person webpage, authorities are not actively working the case.

The Fitch family has never ceased its search. Sarah Fitch has been a near permanent fixture at the river since mid-June. The family has also brought in at least two search teams from out-of-state.

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