A 21-year-old man has been arrested in Arizona on suspicion of stealing a car belonging to a person reported missing last year – and local police believe the case could be connected to a grizzly incident in which mountain lions were found devouring unidentified human remains on a nearby hiking trail.
Daylan Jacob Thornton was picked up by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department on 3 January after being found in possession of the vehicle registered to Steven Mark Brashear, 66, who left his home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, on 7 December and subsequently disappeared.
Brashear was last seen visiting a restaurant in Oro Valley, Arizona, according to local police, before being picked up by an unknown person in a different vehicle to the grey Audi SUV he had set out in and has not been seen since.
His mobile phone was reportedly traced to the area but never recovered.
The authorities now say Thornton is “a person of interest” in the Brashear case and believe the body found being eaten by the lions on New Year’s Eve in Pima Canyon – part of the Coronado National Park lying south east of Tucson – could be that of the missing man.
The animals are not believed to have killed the person themselves but were nevertheless shot by game wardens who considered them a danger to the public after they proved fearless when confronted by officers seeking to reclaim the remains, which were subsequently submitted for autopsy and analysis.
The decision to kill the lions, following consultation with experts, provoked a public outcry but was deemed necessary given they had torn the clothes from the corpse and could be expected to regard humans as food from now on.
“We thought the risk was too great and we had to take action,” Mark Hart of the Arizona Game and Fish Department told CBS News. “Mountain lions are not routinely scavengers. Mountain lions prefer live prey and they’re very good at killing live prey. And there’s abundant javelina and deer in the Catalina foothills so why it happened in this case, we’re just not sure.”
The Pima Sheriff’s Department’s said its investigation into Thornton’s possible connection to Brashear “is in the early stages and more information will be released as it becomes available.”