Long-missing teenagers’ bones recovered with van from canal bottom
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) _ When Kimberly Marie Barnes vanished with four teen-age friends on a summer night 17 years ago, her family thought the 16-year-old had run off to California.
Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies and relatives of the teens believe the mystery was over Sunday, two days after five human skulls were found in a mud-filled van dragged up from the muck of a 20-foot-deep canal.
``It was easier to not know,″ said Jamie Reffett, Kimberly’s sister, visibly upset during a visit to the canal Sunday. ``I could have lived with that the rest of my life.″
The teens who disappeared that night were Kimberly, and John Paul Simmons, 18, both of Lake Forest; Phillip Joseph Pompi, 19, of North Miami; Matthew George Henrich, 18, of Miami Gardens; and William R. Briscoe, 18, of Hollywood.
The brownish-gold, 1976 Dodge, recovered with its roof crushed, was owned by Henrich, said sheriff’s spokesman Paul Miller. And investigators found a driver’s license that belonged to one of the teens.
``Now there are more questions in my head, like, why couldn’t they get out of the van,″ said Lisa Zakovsky, Pompi’s older sister. ``There were five of them. You’d think at least one would be able to get out.″
Investigators say there’s no indication of foul play.
Jamie Reffett’s husband, Oakland Park police Lt. Ron Reffett, said he is convinced that Kimberly’s remains were found. He told deputies about the missing teens after reading a newspaper account of the van’s recovery.
``The van was the whole key,″ he said. ``I knew, once we had the van we’d find them.″
Positive identification will take some time because the bones are intermingled and extremely decomposed, said Dr. John Thogmartin of the county medical examiner’s office.
Police have interviewed some of the five teens’ friends, who got out of the van on the Florida Turnpike south of where it plunged into the canal.
Originally, a group of ten teens, ages 14 to 19, were northbound on the turnpike after going to the beach, the friends told police.
They were drinking beer and talking about a road trip _ farther north in Florida or west to California. No one remembers who was driving.
Four of the girls were past their curfew and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Kimberly to get out with them. Denise Broyles, who was 17 at the time, said she felt guilty for years that she didn’t get her friend to leave.
``I always dreamed about her,″ Broyles said.
The van drove off and the teens were never seen again.
A fisherman spotted the van Feb. 22 resting upside down in the canal, just west of the turnpike in Boca Raton. On Friday, a salvage yard manager preparing to demolish the van saw the bones and called deputies.
Rumors that the teens were alive in California prompted Zakovsky to drive to Huntington Beach to search for them later that summer of 1979. After 10 days she gave up.
``I’m glad to know that Phillip’s been with God the last 17 years,″ she said.