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Body found in Copiah County fire rubble — skeletal remains sent for identification

Officials in Copiah County are hopeful dental records can help identify skeletal remains found in the burnt rubble of a home on Tyson Road.

The house fire occurred Feb. 22 in the area of the county between Hwy. 28 and I-55 northwest of Wesson. The body was discovered Saturday afternoon.

The family of Joey Washington, of Natchez, believes it is him.

Deedra Madison, of Natchez, said she learned Friday that her nephew has been missing since the fire. The house on Tyson Road belonged to Washington’s father.

Copiah County firefighters extinguished the fire and left the scene returning to re-extinguish the blaze again after it had rekindled several hours later.

On Saturday, Washington’s father, who had been out of the area working when the fire occurred, returned to the home to sift through the rubble, Madison said, and that is when he discovered human remains in the ashes.

Copiah County Sheriff Harold Jones confirmed Monday that skeletal remains were found at the scene of the fire on Saturday.

“It’s skeletal remains,” Jones said. “We don’t know who it is yet. We’re questioning people.”

Mike Chaney, state insurance commissioner and fire marshal, said his office was notified of the fatality on Saturday and is conducting an investigation into the cause of the fire and to identify the remains.

“When you have a fire, it is not uncommon for a body to be found a week or a week and a half later, because the body becomes part of the fire scene,” Chaney said,

He said the burnt human remains could mix in with the other ashes and make it hard to discover.

Chaney also said that unless firefighters are informed someone is in the structure at the time of the fire, they don’t know to look for a body.

Madison said her nephew, who works in the forestry industry, is a hard-worker and a loving man.

Jones said he would not speculate on identification of the body. 

“We can’t say for sure,” Jones said. “That’s why we’re investigating the ID. The family might think they know who it is, but it’s skeletal remains. You can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman. We’re going to identify it by dental records.”

The sheriff did confirm that Washington had been reported missing a few days ago.

Chaney said the state is facing a backlog of autopsies because the state crime lab is not adequately funded.

“The state crime lab has not been funded correctly, so it is about 1,500 autopsies behind,” Chaney said. “I found some money to help fund the crime lab to have two pathologists to work on some of these backlogs of autopsies.”

He said the state had eight fire deaths in the past week, and he hopes the Copiah County fire investigation can be wrapped up quickly.

Scott Hawkins, editor of The Natchez Democrat, contributed to this report.