JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ark. – Many questions are still left to be answered after the Arkansas State Crime Lab confirmed remains found in Jefferson County earlier this month are those of an Arkansas woman last seen more than a year ago.

Friends of Maranda Neal are hoping more answers will come soon. 

Deputies in Jefferson County said state officials confirmed that human remains discovered May 5 by a K-9 unit after extensive searches for Maranda Neal, who went missing May 22, 2022.

The discovery was announced Thursday evening after DNA testing performed by the Arkansas State Crime Lab officially confirmed Neal’s identity after the remains were found during exhaustive grid searches over hundreds of acres of woods.

Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr. said they did at least three searches, and the remains were found during the most recent one. 

Neal’s remains were discovered in a thick underbrush southeast of Presidents Circle around her last known location. Her ATV was discovered in November less than a mile away.

Sheriff Woods Jr. said he knows some have made criticism about the distance away from where the remains were found. 

“I’ve heard rumors or comments in terms of the discovery of the ATV,” Woods said. “So, we’re talking about the distance between where the ATV was found and where the actual remains were discovered and understand that we’re not talking about a full body. We’re talking about remains that are not intact, so that makes a big difference. Also, you’re talking about the off-chance of a dog being able to detect it.”

Woods also said the outdoor elements made it difficult for them to locate the remains. He said what they did differently with the May 5 search, was to include K-9 units specialized in finding human remains. 

“Some will say why wasn’t that done sooner but understand that these are volunteers, so they travel the country doing these things, so for us we had to work our schedule with their schedule it’s all about availability,” Woods said. 

Theresa Camb who is a longtime friend of Neal, said she believes more could have been done in the investigation.

“You hear all the rumors. Of course, everything is a rumor, and I don’t know all the facts, but I feel more could have been done,” Camb said.

However, Woods strongly believes their department handled the investigation correctly.

“We expect those comments,” Woods stated. “We don’t take them lightly, but they have no bearing on whether or not we did what we should have done or done more.”

Woods said he couldn’t go into grave detail about the next steps in the case, but did say it would involve more searches. 

“It doesn’t stop here until we know undoubtedly whether there was any foul play was involved. Right now, it doesn’t speak to any foul play involved but we want to make sure we can rule out any possibility of that,” Woods said.

Camb said she will only find closure when they find out what happened. 

The Sheriff said if anyone has any information about this case even if they think it is small, they should come forward and contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.