MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — Bryn Hargreaves was missing from Monongalia County for 14 months before his remains were found; some people involved with the case are wondering what could have been done better and asking for change in West Virginia search dog training.
He was last heard from on Jan. 3, 2022. Health officials say he suffered from seizures and was believed to have CTE, a brain disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries, from his years of playing rugby in the UK.
According to the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office, Hargreaves was found on March 2 of 2023 and was positively identified 18 days later. He lived at the Whisper Creek Apartments in Morgantown, West Virginia, and his body was found in a nearby wooded area—only an estimated 1,000 feet away.
Why did it take so long to find his body?
Hargreaves’ family hired private investigator Ken Cornell months before Hargreaves was found to look into what happened. The investigator worked pro bono and did some digging and found something interesting regarding the search when dogs were brought in by Mountaineer Area Rescue Group.
“The area that he was found in had extensive searching. Extensive searching,” Cornell said. “Matter of fact, I have the map I’ve provided to you. They’re supposed to be the professionals here. It looked to me like there was extensive searching.”
Hargreaves was spotted in the upside-down “U” in red in the photo, and as you can see, a dog was brought into that area.
Where did the dogs hit?
“A lot of hits on the lake. We know he wasn’t there. No hits out in the woods where he was found,” Cornell said.
You can see on the map above just how many hits there are near the Ices Ferry Bridge in Cheat Lake.
12 News reached out to Mountaineer Area Rescue Group (MARG) to see why this may be the case. In a statement, they said:
“We can only speculate why that is, but we subsequently learned that there may be a sewage effluent pipe that enters the lake in the Ice’s Ferry area. Even treated human waste, especially if it contains human blood such as from disposal of feminine hygiene products, can contain the decay compounds unique to human tissue. At times, there is significant current through Cheat Lake include periods between Bryn’s disappearance and our search efforts. It is possible that the effluent from the sewage pipe confused the dogs.”
According to Cornell, this isn’t the only case in West Virginia where dogs were unable to find missing people.
“Mountaineer Search and Rescue went to Hardy County. They searched on a gentleman out there. Searched around his car. He was found half a mile from his car by a farmer,” Cornell said.
Advocating for change
With hundreds of missing people in West Virginia, Cornell is hoping to see change.
“What I would like to see West Virginia do is everybody get on the same page and have the state set up a state certification. So, if there’s a cadaver team in Wheeling, West Virginia, and they go to Mason County, West Virginia, they all know how the dogs are going to act and everybody’s on the same level of training,” Cornell said.
This isn’t a new concept. For example, Ohio has a state-wide certification called the Ohio Federation of K9 Search and Rescue.
MARG said that many certifying organizations are used to train cadaver dogs both nationally and regionally. The search group said that “search dogs are trained by their handlers who then have them tested by whichever certifying agency they choose or are required to use by their team.”
“A lot of people have jobs in West Virginia that have to have certification. That’s set up by the state. I don’t know why the state of West Virginia doesn’t come up with a certification,” Cornell said.
In the case of Hargreaves, the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Office said in an email:
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Hargreaves remains were not located sooner but we do not feel that it was anyone’s fault nor do we think that it was not for a lack of trying.”
The same thoughts were echoed by MARG and Cornell, but Cornell wants to see change so that others who are lost in the Mountain State can be found.
When asked if Hargreaves may have been found sooner with more consistent training, Cornell said “that’s a very good possibility.”