A man whose body was discovered by turkey scouts died of a gunshot wound, and the death has been ruled a homicide, Lewis County Sheriff Johnny Bivens said. .
Bivens said Justin Johnson’s body was discovered Wednesday afternoon by two men scouting for turkeys on Cooper Ridge at the Lewis/Carter county line.
“We are carefully collecting evidence in this case,” Bivens told the media and Johnson’s family, who had gathered Thursday on the third floor of the Lewis County Courthouse to hear the news.
Bivens said he also had also talked with Johnson’s family Wednesday night. He pledged daily updates to them and promised to work diligently to find the killer.
“I think this case will be resolved in a timely manner,” he said.
“To the Johnson family, I am deeply sorry for your loss,” Bivens said. “My office is deeply committed to locating a suspect or suspects.”
Bivens said he would interview potential witnesses and suspects and would obtain several search warrants to get a closer look at places that have been identified as points of interest during the investigation.
Bivens made several points during the briefing:
- Johnson apparently suffered what appears to be a single gunshot wound.
- He thinks there is more than one person involved.
- He is not releasing a possible motive at this time.
- He is not certain Johnson’s body had been at Cooper Ridge since the time of his disappearance.
- He doesn’t think Johnson was shot at Cooper Ridge.
- Drugs could be involved.
Bivens says Johnson, 28, was last seen about 8 p.m. March 23 at his home on Town Branch Road in Vanceburg.
He said Johnson’s red Chevrolet S-10 pick-up was found on Lower Twin Branch off McDowell Creek Road, south of Garrison, about 7:30 a.m. March 24.
Bivens said he was contacted Thursday night by a concerned relative after Johnson failed to return home when he said he would.
At least 12 search dog teams scoured the immediate area Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Johnson’s cellphone records were obtained, and the information helped to guide the search throughout the weekend.
Volunteers also searched the area on foot and on horseback but were unable to collect any information indicating that Johnson had been in the area where his truck was found.
A helicopter was brought in Tuesday to survey the area from the air but no new information was collected from that effort.
Lewis County Judge-Executive Todd Ruckel has worked closely with the search teamsand with the other local officials since he learned that Johnson had been reported missing.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and we are deeply saddened by their loss,” Ruckel said.
Anyone who might have any information that might be helpful in determining what might have happened to Johnson is urged to call the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office at 606-796-2912.
Bivens said callers may remain anonymous, and all information will be treated confidentially.