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Police: "Human remains" found in orange groves | Crime

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Police: "Human remains" found in orange groves
Crime, News, People
Police: "Human remains" found in orange groves

Winter Haven, Florida -- Within hours of digging near the foot of several orange trees, Winter Haven police say they found a shallow grave containing two sets of human bones, one of an adult and one appearing to be of a child.

"It's going to take a forensic pathologist to examine the remains to give us some insight into gender, age, race," said Winter Haven Police Chief Gary Hester.

Still, given the remoteness of the location and the preciseness of the search area, it suggests a major break in the October 2009 disappearance of 29-year-old Ronkeya Holmes and her 3-year-old daughter Masaraha.

Police contacted family members earlier in the day to let them know what they had found.

"You know our heart goes out to them and at this point we can't confirm that it's their loved ones, but we highly suspect that," said Hester.

Detectives say Holmes had gotten into a nasty custody battle with Masaraha's father, 32-year-old Lester Ross, who was booked on unrelated charges this past weekend.

Investigators have been hesitant to call Ross a suspect, but there was never any evidence, they say, to support his claim that he had handed his daughter over to Holmes at a local Walmart on October 18th 2009.

There was nothing on store security cameras, and Ross's cousin was stopped driving Holme's car that same night. The mother and daughter were nowhere to be found.

"You know he's not been cooperating with police or the FDLE special agent investigators for months now, he's not been cooperative," said Chief Hester.

"I mean, I hope her and her child are found alive," said Diamond Burnham, who says she'd been friends with Holmes for years.

Burnham came out to the search area, hoping the remains found are not those of Ronkeya and her daughter, and that somehow the two are still out there somewhere.

But if the remains are found are those of the mother and daughter, it may, she concedes, it will finally offer family members some small sense of closure

"I know the family is going to be glad that justice will be brought, but whoever did it I just hope they're brought to justice most of all," says Burnham, "and the family will not be happy, you know. The mom will be upset, but she'll be able to sleep well knowing at least her child has been found."

"I would say some nights you can't sleep, or you wonder why it happened," says Archie Forte, Ronkeya Holmes step-father.

Forte had prayed, despite the odds, that his step-daughter and Masaraha would somehow, someday, be found alive. Now, listening to police confirm that human remains had been found here earlier this morning, he says he understands - it may be a matter of closure for him and other family members.

"Well right now, we would know for sure it's over," says Forte.

Acting on a tip, police began searching this particular section of the orange groves, and within hours, found what they confirm is a shallow grave with skeletal remains.

"There's no doubt," says Chief Hester, "That has been confirmed that, this is on fact, human remains."

An agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement aiding in the investigation says an identification will require complex forensic techniques.

David Waller, with the FDLE's Lakeland office says "it could be weeks or months."

Police say cadaver dogs helped scour the area where they found the remains. There are, they say, other spots they may still excavate.

But for now, they've told  Holmes' relatives they are concentrating their efforts on the shallow grave, unearthing what may be the long-awaited break in a 14-month mystery. 

"We're just hoping to find them and put some closure to it," says Forte.

Ross had been released after his arrest last week, but he has since been located and re-arrested, this time on an unrelated charge of witness tampering. Ross is currently in police custody.

As for this phase of the investigation, police say they will likely be at the groves for several more days.

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