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Police confirm identity of teen found in Cheat River

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Police have confirmed that the body of a teenager found on the banks of the Cheat River on Monday is a West Virginia Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy cadet who went missing two weeks ago.

Gatlin Jones, 17, was identified through dental records, said Trooper C.J. Eastridge of the State Police detachment in Kingwood. Jones' exact cause of death is not yet known.

The teenager walked away from the ChalleNGe Academy on July 18.

Eastridge said volunteers from surrounding towns, the Mountaineer Area Rescue Group and Appalachian Search and Rescue teams all helped conduct an extensive search for the missing teen. The Army National Guard, which runs the academy, also diverted helicopters from Camp Dawson to help in the search.

"I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Cadet Gatlin Jones," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said. "Joanne and I send our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to his parents, his family, his friends and the community of Clintonville. I know the staff and students at the ChalleNGe Academy are also mourning the loss of this young man."

The ChalleNGe Academy is a 22-week voluntary residence program for troubled teens that seeks to help 16- to 18-year-olds become contributing members of society through military-style training. More than 2,500 youths have graduated from the program.

"The men and women of the West Virginia National Guard and the staff of the ChalleNGe Academy send their heartfelt condolences to cadet Jones' family and friends," West Virginia Adjutant General James Hoyer said in a prepared statement.

"We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure the health and wellbeing of the students of the West Virginia ChalleNGe Academy. Additional chaplains and professional counselors have been at the academy for several days now helping those in need and will continue to provide counseling and support in the days ahead."

A funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday at Wallace & Wallace Funeral Home in Rainelle. Viewing will be 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at the funeral home.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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