SARASOTA, Fla (FOX 13) - A year and a half of waiting ended in heartbreak Tuesday night as Sarasota detectives announced the discovery of remains belonging to 14-year-old Jabez Spann.
His family feared the worst after he disappeared in 2017. Now they're turning their attention to finding his killer.
Jabez Spann grew up in Sarasota and for the last 18 months, Sarasota is where family, friends, and strangers have come together to search for him. Tuesday, it was announced Jabez's skeletal remains were found in a wooded area west of Interstate 75 in Manatee County.
Now, the focus is on who may have killed him and why.
Sarasota police say Jabez's remains were badly decomposed, presenting further roadblocks for detectives. In 18 months, they fear evidence - like DNA, fingerprints, or footprints - was likely lost to Florida's heat and rain.
Investigators will try to figure out how, when, and where Jabez died, and whether his remains were brought to the remote field in Manatee County by someone else.
"When you have a body, without knowing how that body got there, it makes it difficult for law enforcement to prove," said Anthony Rickman, a defense attorney who is not involved in the case.
Rickman wonders how many clues police had before the body was found.
Law enforcement officials said in the past, they believed Jabez witnessed a murder. Soon after, he went missing.
If so, who would have wanted to keep that quiet? Rickman wonders whether detectives already determined if those people were in Palmetto when Spann went missing.
Officials did not reveal whether any items were found along with Jabez's remains. Anything from clothes to a possible weapon could lead investigators to the truth.
"If they have somebody in mind, they are going to work backward and try to link that person to the crime scene," Rickman said. "Whether they can find something associated with that person."
As police and deputies sort out new details, Jabez's family is starting over their grieving process. The community held searches and never gave up hope, until this week.
“We thought we were prepared but I guess that’s not something that you could get prepared for,” Jabez’s mother, Tawana Spann said. “We got some closure. We are going to put him to peace. We are going to lay him to rest but I’m not done.”
No mother should have to feel this way. She now wants to see justice and answers for what happened to her son.
“When he was hopeless and he couldn’t call on anybody. That’s what I want to see justice for. That’s what I want whoever did whatever, that’s what I want them arrested for. That moment that he couldn’t call or he couldn’t talk to anybody and he knew at a point that it was over,” Tawana said.
Neighbor and family friend, Shannon Bell watched Jabez grow up and she's watched the grief that has filled his family's home.
“It’s hard. It’s a hard pill to swallow. Nobody knows how to really swallow,” neighbor Shannon Bell said. “It has been heart-wrenching. To hear them cry at night, to hear the grandma go to the gate and just call his name. If she sees somebody walking and got the image of his walk she’s just looking, saying ‘I want to know where my baby is at.'"
For his family, the pain will never disappear. It's a constant reminder as Jabez's family and friends now focus on the investigation.
“He had a whole life and a whole big future out there and somebody just stole it. Without no heart, no kind of compassion, no nothing. They just stole everything. It just hurts,” Bell said.
Police says their investigation continues, now from the ground up. They'll take a look at past leads and new evidence. They are asking for the community's help in solving this crime.