TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The remains of a Northport girl who disappeared in 2003 have been found in an abandoned house in Holt, authorities announced Tuesday.
Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ted Sexton said the remains were those of Heaven LaShae Ross, who was 11 when she disappeared on Aug. 19, 2003, while apparently walking on a rainy morning to a school bus stop near her home in Willowbrook Trailer Park.
Sexton said the remains were found Monday in the abandoned house at Holt, a Tuscaloosa County community about six miles east of Northport.
Authorities said the girl's backpack was found near the body.
The site was being combed by a forensics team and FBI agents. The federal agency had joined the three-year hunt for the missing girl, known to her friends as Shae.
The Tuscaloosa News reported that family members and friends weren't ready to comment Tuesday afternoon, but Beth Lowery, the girl's mother, did say police confirmed the remains are of her daughter.
In the weeks after Shae's disappearance, her picture was on posters across north Alabama and her case was featured on a national television program.
Her mother said she believed her daughter saw someone she knew and accepted a ride to avoid the ominous weather.
Her sister, Alex Ross, then 13, told The Tuscaloosa News she had been waiting at the bus stop and that her sister never made it there.
Kevin Thompson, described at the time as Lowery's common-law husband, told The Tuscaloosa News in August 2005 that he replays that morning over and over in his mind.
He said he offered to drive Shae to school because her book bag looked heavy, but she declined the offer. He said she had been out the door only a few minutes when he heard a loud thunderclap. He said thunderstorms scared Shae and he went to go after her.
"But when I came out the door, I didn't see her at all," he said. "It's like she just vanished."
In August, Prattville police said investigators were trying to determine if the missing Northport girl's case was connected to the unsolved abduction and murder of a Prattville girl, Shannon Nicole Paulk, five years ago, as well as the disappearance of Teresa Melissa Dean of Twiggs County, Ga., near Macon, in 1999. All were 11 when they disappeared.
Shannon's body was found in woods seven weeks after she disappeared on Aug. 16, 2001. Teresa, who disappeared on Aug. 15, 1999, has not been found.