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Identifying human remains found in North Collins could prove challenging

It may take a long time – if ever – for investigators to identify the human remains recovered this past weekend from a wooded area in North Collins, authorities said Tuesday.

The remains appear to be that of an adult man. DNA from the skeleton or dental records could play a role in identifying the individual, according to Scott Zylka, spokesman for the Erie County Sheriff's Office.

"We're anticipating a lengthy investigation by the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office," Zylka said. "The cause or manner of death will determine the path we pursue in our investigation."

Whether foul play was involved in the individual's death – that's something the medical examiner will attempt to determine.

Sheriff's detectives are reviewing lists of missing persons and consulting with other law enforcement agencies,  Zylka said.

Even if the medical examiner is successful in obtaining DNA, there may not be a matching sample "in any database," Zylka said of the challenges facing investigators.

Two hikers spotted what appeared to be partially buried human remains near Marion J. Fricano Town Park just south of the Village of North Collins late Saturday morning and called 911. The deceased's remains were buried for at least a decade, Zylka said.

Establishing an identity in these types of cases often depends on how well an original missing person investigation was documented in previous years, Erie County Sheriff's Chief Scott R. Patronik said.

"That would include getting a DNA sample, dental records, clothing descriptions and past injuries, such as a documented fractured or broken bone," Patronik said. "The more details, the more likely we can connect information with those databases containing information on missing persons."

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