Last Katrina victim ID'd; "I'm at peace" says coroner's assistant

Frank Jones
Frank Jones

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A mystery that's haunted Harrison County's coroner since Katrina has been solved.  Gary Hargrove can finally attach a name to "Strength" -- the last unidentified victim of the 2005 storm.

Hargrove knew last September that the one unidentified hurricane victim in Harrison County was Frank Jones.  But he couldn't tell Jones family until DNA evidence was analyzed.  That report came back Wednesday.  At that moment, the coroner got the closure he was desperately searching for.

"The last three-and-a-half years, I more or less lived and breathed the fact that we had one unknown victim of the storm," he said as he opened a news conference to announce the victim's identity.

"Strength has now been identified as Frank Jones age 20 of Gulfport," he said.

Jones lived on Klein Road, just a few blocks away from the Flat Branch Creek.  That's where Pat McGee pulled a hurricane victim's body from the water.

"He was laid face that way," McGee explained as he stood near the bank of the creek where he spotted the hurricane victim in 2005.

McGee's discovery was two days after Katrina ravaged south Mississippi.  So why did it take so long to identify Harrison County's 97th and final Katrina victim?  Hargrove said much of the delay was due to the fact that the Jones family waited more than a year before contacting authorities about Frank Jones disappearance.

What they told the coroner was Jones left on his bicycle during the storm.

"Didn't specifically say where he was going.  And then came up missing," Hargrove said.

The family's initial description was that he had multiple tattoos.  However, the unidentified body buried in "Strength's" grave had just one unfinished tattoo, with the words "Love Jones" on it.

About a year after that first call, Jones' sister contacted the coroner's office, and corrected the family's mistake.  She mentioned the one tattoo to coroner's assistant Joy Yates.

"When she described it, I knew immediately in my heart it was him," Yates remembered.

DNA evidence confirmed the suspicions in the coroner's office.  Strength was indeed Frank Jones.

"As of today, we have 100% identification of all victims in Hancock County and now Harrison County, which brings a closure to a chapter of Katrina that I think has worn on all of us over the last several years," an emotional Hargrove said.

When his assistant was asked what her emotions were, Yates said, "I think I'm at peace to know that all victims in my county are now accounted for."

One hundred 67 people in the three coastal counties died during Hurricane Katrina.  There are still nine resident of Harrison County on a missing persons list.  The coroner says three of those people are presumed dead.

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