Remains found in Iowa cornfield may be those of missing boy

Montezuma, Iowa — Investigators searching for an Iowa boy who vanished in May days before his 11th birthday said Thursday they have found human remains matching his description in a nearby cornfield.

The remains were discovered by a farmer working in a field a few miles outside of Montezuma, where 10-year-old Xavior Harrelson was reported missing May 27 from the trailer park where he lived.

The farmer called the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office, which responded to the scene, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation assistant director Mitch Mortvedt told CBS Des Moines affiliate KCCI-TV.

State agents, Iowa medical examiner and the state anthropologist also responded and confirmed that they were remains, he said.

“It appears to be that of an adolescent and at this time, the clothing that we see on scene, even though it’s obviously soiled and stuff, is consistent with what we knew Xavior to last be wearing,” Mortvedt told the station.

He said authorities weren’t ready to identify the body as that of Xavior, adding that the state medical examiner and anthropologist have “a lot of work left ahead of them in the days and weeks, even, to come.”

Authorities said they had relayed the news to Xavior’s mother.

Xavior Harrelson in undated family photo Handout

The boy’s disappearance from Montezuma, a town of 1,300 people 70 miles east of Des Moines, had baffled investigators and saddened residents for months.

It was another blow to a rural area that had been mourning the 2018 abduction and killing of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts, who vanished about 15 miles away in July 2018 while out for a run in her hometown of Brooklyn.

In fact, the boy’s disappearance came as prosecutors delivered closing arguments in the first-degree murder case against Cristhian Bahena-Rivera, a farmhand who allegedly stabbed Tibbetts to death and dumped her body in a nearby cornfield. Some investigators who had worked the Tibbetts case for years left the trial to search for the boy, before jurors returned a guilty verdict.

After the trial, Bahena-Rivera’s lawyers tried to raise suspicions about whether the two apparent kidnappings were connected, but law enforcement officials have rejected that scenario.

So far, no suspects or persons of interest have been named in Xavior’s disappearance.

Investigators at scene in Iowa cornfield outside Montezuma where remains believed to be those of Xavior Harrelson were found on September 30, 2021. KCCI-TV

A 50-year-old man who was a boyfriend of Xavior’s mother has come under scrutiny and been jailed on a federal weapons charge, but authorities haven’t alleged he was involved.

County, state and federal investigators had been examining whether the boy was abducted, ran away or had some kind of accident, and had searched several areas in the region in recent months.

Xavior lived with his mother, Sarah Harrelson, in the Spruce Village trailer park. He was gone by the morning of May 27, and a friend’s mother called authorities later that day to report the boy missing after speaking with Sarah.

In August, says KCCI, she told authorities she had no idea where her son could be.

“I just want him found,” Harrelson told the station in her first interview since her son’s disappearance. Harrelson said she’d remained publicly quiet until then because of her heartbreak and anxiety.

On what would have been his 11th birthday on May 30, hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officials searched the nearby Diamond Lake County Park and other areas for him.

A reward fund for information regarding Xavior was at about $34,000 as of Sept. 21, KCCI reports, adding that Mollie Tibbetts’ mother donated money to the fund.

Xavior had completed his fourth grade year at Montezuma Elementary School on May 21 and was off for summer break. He was known for riding his bike around the trailer park.

“Xavior is a happy kid who gets along well with his peers and wants to please his teachers,” one of his teachers, Marie Boulton, said in June. “He’s always willing to help you out, engage in a conversation, and offers a smile to everyone he sees.”